Editorial: A tragedy that demands a response

We inhabit a world where all kinds of tragedies take place. Some of these events — derailed trains, bus crashes, fires — get little attention, save from those directly involved.

Others catch the world’s attention and demand a collective response.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over a part of eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew members on board, would be both tragic and unusual enough to spur widespread media and political attention, despite the knowledge that this section of the globe is caught up in a bloody struggle that has claimed many lives.

But even if ordinary people were dissuaded from visiting the Ukraine and bordering areas by the knowledge that the ebb and flow of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists could be dangerous, what was happening on the ground didn’t seem to extend more than six miles into the air.

Before the incident, it seemed inconceivable that a passenger jet traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur could become a casualty.

One of the first victims of any war is innocence — and photographs of the crash site, with airplane wreckage comingled with the bodies of violently killed passengers, clearly sent a jolt to a world that had been giving only passing attention to what was happening in the Ukraine.

This regional conflict — albeit one in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked an active role — has now claimed global victims — 189 Dutch residents, 44 Malaysians and 27 Australians as well as citizens from Indonesia, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Canada, the Philippines and the U.S.

Eighty of the victims were children.

The dead and their families deserve justice, but it’s doubtful that the partially trained pro-Russian separatists who fired the surface-to-air missile that brought down this plane, the individuals who gave the order or Russia — which has been supplying them with weaponry — will face a trial, let alone punishment.

Instead, it appears that the rebels and their Russian handlers are determined to make sure that justice will not prevail. International aircraft crash investigators have been blocked from gathering evidence and doing their job at the scene. News reports have come in that evidence — including the downed plane’s “black boxes” — is being removed or destroyed. Even the bodies and remains of the victims were roughly handled, though finally they have been turned over to an international team of forensic experts.

Meanwhile Russia — and Putin — are busy creating their own story line about this tragedy. State-run television has reported that it was the Ukrainian Army that shot the plane down.

The truth, too, is threatened with becoming another victim.

The world, particularly Europe, cannot stand still while this fraud is being perpetrated. It must join the United States in levying greater sanctions against Russia, using economic forces to get Russia to rethink its strategy in this embattled nation. Economic help, too, should be provided to the Ukraine as it continues to struggle to climb out of bankruptcy.

The world cannot afford to sit this one out.

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