Holding Corpses Hostage


I’ve not yet weighed in on Russia’s response to the downing of MH17, partly because it beggars belief. The staggering insouciance, the prickly denials of the bleeding obvious, the corrupt and foul attempt to shift the blame, and the shameful refusal to allow international flight inspectors into the area as swiftly as possible: which realm of barbarism do these goons of Putin’s invention come from? And now this:

Separatists controlling the area of the MH17 wreckage have declared that they can only ensure international investigators will have access to the crash site if Ukraine agrees to a truce: “We declare that we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement,” said Andre Purgin, a senior leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. The declaration amounts to blackmail, as Nina Ivanovna put it. The separatists are holding the bodies of MH17 passengers hostage in exchange for territory.

I find myself agreeing with Roger Cohen:

This mass murder is an outrage that should not stand. Falling military budgets have reduced the Dutch special forces to a paltry remnant. Russia would veto any United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing force for a limited mission to recover the bodies and the evidence. But Ukraine, on whose territory the debris and dead lie, would support it. The American, British, Dutch and Australian governments should set an ultimatum backed by the credible threat of force demanding unfettered access to the site. Putin’s Russia must not be permitted to host the 2018 World Cup. A Western priority must be to transform the Ukrainian army into a credible force.

The principle of non-intervention in distant civil wars is not harmed by this kind of resolve. What just happened over the skies of Eastern Ukraine was an attack on the far more important principle of free travel across the globe. If Russia’s thugs can down a civilian airliner  – can kill hundreds of European civilians – with impunity, then we have permitted a deeply damaging precedent for chaos and disorder to take root. Russia has crossed a Rubicon and should really now be deemed a rogue neo-fascist state that requires containment.

That cannot happen without European unity and resolve – without, that is, a far more stringent and focused response than we have seen so far. It means that Germany and Britain in particular must accept some sacrifice for the maintenance of a global order they rely on. If the Europeans do not enact sanctions at the level of America’s and more, their appeasement of this strutting, irresponsible tsar of disorder will come back to haunt them – and sooner than they might think. Russia is not a stable international actor, it is not a stable economy, it is rather an oligarchy kept together by ever-more inflammatory moral and xenophobic panics. There is no stable state to partner with.

The latest on the situation:

Four days after the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Dutch forensics experts are finally being allowed onto the scene. However, the site is still being guarded by armed rebels, who are making it very difficult for investigators to move in and out. The rebels also control much of the access to the bodies, most of which have been moved, decomposed, or otherwise tampered with. These Dutch experts have arrived to review remains of the victims, that is, if they can get to them.

The forensic experts are in the town of Torez, where many of the bodies have been put onto refrigerated rail cars. However, the train cannot leave, as Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk says the rebels controlling the area are preventing the train from moving. Thus far, the experts have only been able to inspect the bodies on the train.

(Photo: Bodies of victims wrapped in bags wait to be collected by rescuers at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19, 2014. By Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images.)