Russia, MH17 and the West. A web of lies

Vladimir Putin, Enrico Letta

IN 1991, when Soviet Communism collapsed, it seemed as if the Russian people might at last have the chance to become citizens of a normal Western democracy. Vladimir Putin’s disastrous contribution to Russia’s history has been to set his country on a different path. And yet many around the world, through self-interest or self-deception, have been unwilling to see Mr Putin as he really is.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the killing of 298 innocent people and the desecration of their bodies in the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine, is above all a tragedy of lives cut short and of those left behind to mourn. But it is also a measure of the harm Mr Putin has done. Under him Russia has again become a place in which truth and falsehood are no longer distinct and facts are put into the service of the government. Mr Putin sets himself up as a patriot, but he is a threat—to international norms, to his neighbours and to the Russians themselves, who are intoxicated by his hysterical brand of anti-Western propaganda.

The world needs to face the danger Mr Putin poses. If it does not stand up to him today, worse will follow.

Crucifiction and other stories

Mr Putin has blamed the tragedy of MH17 on Ukraine, yet he is the author of its destruction. A high-court’s worth of circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion that pro-Russian separatists fired a surface-to-air missile out of their territory at what they probably thought was a Ukrainian military aircraft. Separatist leaders boasted about it on social media and lamented their error in messages intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and authenticated by America (see article).

Russia’s president is implicated in their crime twice over. First, it looks as if the missile was supplied by Russia, its crew was trained by Russia, and after the strike the launcher was spirited back to Russia. Second, Mr Putin is implicated in a broader sense because this is his war. The linchpins of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic are not Ukrainian separatists but Russian citizens who are, or were, members of the intelligence services. Their former colleague, Mr Putin, has paid for the war and armed them with tanks, personnel carriers, artillery—and batteries of surface-to-air missiles. The separatists pulled the trigger, but Mr Putin pulled the strings.

The enormity of the destruction of flight MH17 should have led Mr Putin to draw back from his policy of fomenting war in eastern Ukraine. Yet he has persevered, for two reasons. First, in the society he has done so much to mould, lying is a first response. The disaster immediately drew forth a torrent of contradictory and implausible theories from his officials and their mouthpieces in the Russian media: Mr Putin’s own plane was the target; Ukrainian..

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