Vladimir Putin has blood on his hands, and all the explaining in the world cannot remove the stain or restore whatever lingering respect he may have enjoyed outside his own tarnished sphere of influence.
There’s no other reasonable conclusion, given the available evidence about Russia’s role in the horrible shooting down of that Malaysian airliner over Ukraine late last week.
The Russian leader has tried to persuade critics that Ukraine bears responsibility because the missile that destroyed the airliner was fired from what is technically Ukrainian soil.
That won’t fly, although it may find traction with the Russian people whose growing sense of nationalism has been stoked by Putin’s rhetoric, much of it critical of the United States in particular and the West in general.
The unadorned truth is that, encouraged by Putin, pro-Russian separatists took over large segments of eastern Ukraine in a bid to derail their elected leaders’ plans to establish closer economic and cultural ties with Europe.
Their preference, one they’re willing to pursue at any cost, is to restore Ukraine’s long-ago relationship with what was the Soviet Union, arguing that their language and their culture are more closely aligned with Russia’s than with Europe’s.
And it seems clear enough that it was these militant separatists who launched the death-dealing missile. Even more damning, the sophisticated missile system they used was Russian and had no business being in Ukraine.
Even if it were to be determined that the separatists shot down the passenger airliner by mistake, believing it was a Ukrainian military target, the Russian leader would still be complicit in the tragedy by enabling the missile launcher to be deployed by untrained zealots.
Nearly 300 innocent lives were lost — and thousands of others horribly damaged — because Russian-speaking Ukrainians, using Russian-made weapons and acting with the encouragement of Putin, had the wherewithal to launch a missile that could not have been part of their arsenal without Moscow’s consent.
Seldom has this turmoil-stricken world of ours been as unified as it is in condemning Putin for his role in this disaster.
And many of those placing the blame squarely on the Russian leader are taking note of the fact it was 100 years ago next month that a single reckless act — the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo — opened the door that led to World War I.
The world is confronted not just with the tragedy in Ukraine but also the seemingly out-of-control conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the brutal tactics on display in the widening war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Syria, unrest in various parts of Africa and mounting tensions between China and Japan. We may not be on the brink of World War III, but the number of major conflicts occurring simultaneously certainly suggests some frightening parallels with the two previous world wars.
Some are saying that Putin has caused a resumption of the Cold War. That may be so, but the danger is that he’s added so much heat with his reckless posturing that the near future seems less like a resumption of the Cold War than the beginnings of something far more dangerous.