July 25 2014
New York Post
Jillian Kay Melchior
The horrors of Flight 17 have taught the world that Vladimir Putin is happy to give his minions the means to shoot innocent life out of the sky — as long as they are serving his larger interests.
What the world hasn’t really wrapped its head around yet is that the carnage scattering the fields of eastern Ukraine isn’t some aberration. It’s Putin’s regular way of doing business.
Of course the stories of Flight 17 are heartbreaking: One victim was Miguel Panduwinata, age 11. He’d spent the days before the flight uncannily asking his mother about death, God and plane crashes. Responders later found children’s books scattered among the wreckage.
Equally heartbreaking were the accounts of the surviving family members, from the Australian woman who lost family in both Malaysia Airlines crashes to the grieving Dutch father whose open letter mourned the murder of “my loved and only child, Elsemiek de Borst,” only 17.
Another woman lost not only her three children (ages 12, 10 and 8), but also her father, who’d accompanied them.
As awful are the retching details about the treatment of the bodies.
One man stumbled across the burnt and bloodied body of boy who couldn’t be older than 7. He took the corpse, dressed in a green T-shirt, to a nearby morgue himself; if he left the body in the field, he feared, a dog might eat it.
International monitors found many bodies starting to rot in the hot sun. It’s all too human, too emotional, too terrible. Two weeks ago, most of the world saw the conflict in Ukraine as distant and detached. This hits home.
But too few people realize that this is what the conflict is really all about. It’s not just democratic Ukraine vs. authoritarian Russia; it’s a clash of values.
The Western side honors the value of individual human life and protects the liberty that nourishes that life. The Russian side cares about people only insofar as collateral in the pursuit of power and wealth.
That conflict showed itself from the earliest days of the Maidan demonstrations in Kiev, when riot police, acting at the behest of the Putin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, bludgeoned protesters, some in their early teens.
It was even more apparent later, when those same berkut fired into the peaceful crowd, killing around 100.
Ukrainian artist and former Soviet dissident Boris Eghiazaryan described one scene that embodied the ideological clash: Facing off against the berkut, he recalls, the Maidaners wore helmets painstakingly painted by their fellow protesters, each unique and special.
Opposite them stood the riot police, all in identical uniform, well-armed mirror images of each other, perfectly interchangeable, a true embodiment of Putin’s “cult of death,” Erghiazaryan said:
Where the Russians sought to destroy, the Maidaners were compelled by a Godly desire to create, and expressed that not only through protest but art.
The Maidaners won.
But in Kiev in April, I was surprised to see former protesters buying wreaths and flowers for the riot police, even as they mourned their own slain. Ukrainians had to see the berkut as people too, fathers and brothers and sons, my young guide explained. All death is tragic, she said.
Russia doesn’t share that noble sentiment. It stokes discontent, recruits and organizes “rebels,” and supplies them with powerful weapons, including antiaircraft systems.
Nor is this new. Putin did much the same in his 2008 invasion of Georgia, which left hundreds dead and Russia holding much of the country.
The death toll from Putin’s war in Chechnya was easily in the tens of thousands, mostly civilian. Russian troops rained down bombs on the capital of Grozny; at one point, the city experienced 4,000 detonations an hour.
And Putin has presided over years of violence against his own people, who are gunned down or acid-attacked or beaten or imprisoned or disappeared for exposing or challenging the Kremlin and its corrupt cronies.
Put simply, Putin has blood on his hands. Flight 17 should shatter all illusion that the violence of such a nihilistic state will remain contained.
Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a fellow for the Franklin Center and Independent Women’s Forum.