The Only Prescription for Putin

flight 17When, in 1983, Vladimir Putin’s old paymaster, the Soviet Union, shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, killing 269 passengers and crew, within a week President Ronald Reagan delivered a televised address from the oval office outlining the clear-cut evidence for Soviet culpability in what he called “the massacre”, an attack “against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere.”

And when terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers, the US was able to determine very quickly Al Qaeda’s responsibility and from which country it had been receiving support and safe haven. Ten days later, on September 21, President Bush issued Afghanistan with an ultimatum to hand over the perpetrators. “By aiding and abetting murder,” he said, “the Taliban regime is committing murder.”

The key facts about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 are rapidly emerging. It was shot down, evidently by Russian insurgents (and perhaps by Russian operators) with the aid and assistance of Vladimir Putin’s government. By aiding and abetting those who shot down MH17, Putin and his government are responsible for the murder of nearly 300 innocents. It matters not that the plane’s destruction may have been unintentional; it was still criminal negligence — murder.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, “Australia takes a very dim view of countries which facilitate the killing of Australians. The idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility because this happened in Ukrainian airspace just does not stand up to serious scrutiny. We all know what’s happening in the Ukraine.”

The countries whose citizens were murdered should issue Russia with an ultimatum: hand over those responsible, as well as the Russian surface-to-air missile transporter that launched the lethal missile (reportedly seen being driven back into Russia). And, finally, withdraw all support to the Russian-led insurgency in Ukraine. Failure by Putin to accede to these demands should be seen as evidence that Russia is a threat to peace and security, and will be treated as such.

The former KGB colonel has said that the breakup of the Soviet Union and alienation of ethnic Russians from the motherland was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. One cannot exaggerate the degree to which that bitter ahistorical delusion, the motivation behind the Putin Doctrine — to reconstitute the former Soviet Empire under the cloak of a pan-Eurasian union – is “a threat not just to Russia’s Eastern European and Eurasian neighbors but to the whole post-1945 international order,” as Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash noted.

If, like a bad sequel, Putin pines for the return of the Evil Empire, the West should begin treating his revanchist Russia much the way it treated the lawless Soviets, as a pariah state with all of the consequences that follow, including denying landing rights to Russian flag carriers, barring Russia’s participation in international forums and imposing strict trade sanctions, particularly on technology and weapons such as the amphibious warships being built by France for the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet. Indeed, NATO should consider obsolete the Montreux Convention, banning larger NATO warships passage through the Bosporus Straights and Dardanelles, obsolete – Putin must pay a strategic price for his aggression. Other strong measures should follow, such as providing Ukraine the means necessary to defend itself, as it is entitled to do under the UN Charter – if that document is to mean anything.

Some will say we shouldn’t be so hasty, that we should wait for detailed investigations and UN Security Council resolutions (where Russia holds a veto) before issuing flaccid condemnations.

No, there can be no more of that. Had the West taken stronger action earlier, when Putin’s ‘little green men’ (Russian Spetsnaz special forces without insignia), invaded Crimea and then eastern Ukraine, these measures might not have been necessary and 298 people would be home, safe with their families. Our countrymen and those of our allies and friends have been murdered by an amoral regime threatening the peace and security of its immediate neighbours, all of Europe and the vital interests of the West. There can be no more tut-tutting at UN headquarters in the Turtle Bay district of Manhattan. Righteous indignation and the national interest demand action now.

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