Slava Novorossiya

Slava Novorossiya

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Buk-M1-2 SAM system. 9A310M1-2 self-propelled launcher. MAKS, Zhukovskiy, Russia, 2005.
A mobile Buk surface-to-air missile launcher, similar to that believed to have been used in the incident

28 May 2014 5:33 PM

Ukraine - A Warning to the Furious

I feel a strong foreboding about Ukraine. Stories quite a long way inside most of today’s papers recount appalling carnage in and around Donetsk, where jet fighters and helicopters were used earlier in the week by the Kiev government to retake the airport from rebels, and where the mortuary is said to be full of tangled, maimed bodies.

There are unpleasant stories from the town of Gorlovka (which I have visited, and which is twinned with Barnsley) claiming that policemen have been  murdered by rebels there.

It all sounds extremely dangerous and chaotic, and I feel great sympathy for the courageous journalists attempting to report what is going on, and being rewarded with inside pages.

This is the kind of conflict where one could easily become dead, or very badly wounded, simply by driving down the wrong road at the wrong time of day, or by not leaving a building quickly enough. I have been very lucky in such circumstances, but plenty are not.

But my concern for the reporters and photographers and cameramen is just a small part of it. Who is in charge? What are they trying to achieve?

Although he is not really legitimate, as his predecessor was never lawfully removed, we have at least to give a fair wind to Petro Poroshenko, the newly-elected president in Kiev.

But can he, only just elected, have had any personal say in the use of overwhelming force in Donetsk? If so, things look very bad. Russia is plainly angling for a compromise over Eastern Ukraine, a federal system which would allow the east of the country to retain strong economic and political links with Russia.

There are good material reasons for this. Much of Russia’s defence industry, pretty much its only successful industry apart from oil, still depends on quite advanced factories in this part of Ukraine. An EU-dominated Kiev, subject to the sort of economic and trade constraints that EU satellites must obey, could not long permit such an arrangement to last.

There are also (as discussed here to the point of exhaustion) strong political reasons why Russia will do all in its power to prevent the transfer of Ukraine from its current buffer-state neutrality to EU/NATO loyalty. And Moscow sees a federalisation of Ukraine, with a good deal of autonomy for the east, as a tolerable way of doing this. It would without doubt prefer the whole Ukraine in its sphere. But it recognizes that this is not a realistic objective at present or in the foreseeable future, so does not seek to pursue it. This is just grown-up diplomacy, not all that difficult.

So when Vladimir Putin said he would recognise the outcome of the Ukraine presidential election, it was a significant concession, made not out of the kindness of his heart but in the hope of receiving something worthwhile in return.

An airborne attack on Donetsk airport does not seem to me to be that something.

Now, perhaps people in the Kiev regime were trying to bounce Mr Poroshenko, or hem him in by creating impossible hostility and so preventing compromise, before he was fully in charge. Perhaps some of them still half-fear and half hope that Russian tanks will come storming across the border.  I have noticed how supporters of the Kiev putsch have always believed very strongly in the likelihood of such an action, and have wondered if it was wishful thinking, since it would compel the USA and Western Europe to intervene unequivocally on Kiev’s side, in some way. And this is what many of them want(in my view, quite madly, as it would cause untold grief. But they don’t seem to grasp this).

I have until now always doubted that Mr Putin intended an invasion It would be an act of emotional folly, likely to lead in the end to his own downfall, and I do not get the impression that he does such things. As Sir Rodric Braithwaite has said elsewhere, he usually knows when to stop. He knows his history. He knows that Nicholas II’s mobilisation in 1914 led directly to the murder of the Imperial family in a cellar in Yekaterinburg, and to the disaster of Lenin.

If he had done it before now then I would have to confess to having completely misunderstood his nature and motives. The Crimean takeover was quite different,  aided by the fact that large numbers of Russian troops were already legally there, the status of Crimea was legally dubious from the start, thanks to Kiev’s blocking of a referendum on Crimea’s position 20-odd years ago,  and the action had popular support.

Now that Kiev is deploying such strong violence in Donetsk, I cannot be quite so sure. Violence of this kind and on this scale can make men take leave of their senses, as history also shows. In 1914 it was as if they had put something in the water, so quickly did politicians take leave of their senses.   
I must just hope that people on both sides keep hold of their reason and their sense of proportion. And also that this is not Mr Poroshenko’s will, and that he has the real power to control those who are seeking to ramp this up.

Meanwhile, where are the condemnations of the Kiev government for ‘killing its own people’? There is no doubt that it is doing so, and using indiscriminate methods. It is all very well saying (truthfully) that it faces an armed insurgency and claiming (almost certainly correctly) that this insurgency is being aided and armed by outsiders.

Exactly the same was and is true in Syria, but that has not prevented the liberal interventionist chorus from condemning the Syrian government and classifying it as a ‘regime’.

I’ll say again what I have said several times before. The EU and the USA are the aggressors in this matter. It is they who have intervened openly and actively in the internal affairs of what they simultaneously claim is a sovereign state, overthrowing its legitimate government when it failed to what they wanted it to do.  It is they who have sought to make a major and significant shift in the alignment of a key state in South-East Europe, in the knowledge that such a change is highly unwelcome to a major neighbouring power. The fact that they have used NGOs, civil society organisations and gullible idealistic youths (as well as biddable media)  as their weapons does not mean it is not aggression. This is how aggression is done in the post-modern world.

Russia has no doubt used methods just as cynical and dishonest, if not more so. But it has been reacting to an attempt to alert the status quo, an attempt which only an ignoramus could believe to be unimportant, or unlikely to meet opposition. The West has then become righteously angry that its own methods have been played back, and that the country the ‘West’ hoped to push out of Ukraine has pushed back.

This is unrealistic and morally absurd. If you start a fight, then you cannot condemn your opponent if he retaliates.   

And if your actions lead (as this adventure has) to deaths on quite a large scale, it is you, the aggressor, who is responsible for them.

War is hell. Its face, which I have glimpsed, is so ugly it is almost impossible to look upon. It always has been foul and cruel and always will be. Sane, civilized people should do their utmost to avoid it. The best way to avoid it is to compromise, and recognise the limits of your power. Do the EU and NATO and the USA have any capacity to do this, or do they think that because all Europe has so far fallen before them, that they can sweep eastwards until they reach the shores of the Caspian? This is not a board game. This is real earth, inhabited by real people with lives they hope to lead.

I have yet to hear any of the leaders of the 'West' talking like grown-ups. They aren't even cynical. They are just adolescent. Meanwhile the warnings from retirement of Helmut Schmidt are worth listening to. Look them up. Some of you may remember him as a very distinguished Chancellor of West Germany, an old-fashioned Social Democrat, and another man who knows some history, quite a lot of it from direct personal experience.  He’s old enough to know what war is, and how hard it is to end, once it has begun.

21 July 2014 4:28 PM

A Plea for Restraint on the Ukraine Tragedy

A new plea for restraint, thought and justice on the Ukrainian tragedy. 

What follows is necessarily long. It is, among other things,  a detailed response to many attacks made on my article about the MH17 horror yesterday. I don’t expect that the people who most need to read it will do so. But it is here for anyone who is really interested. 

I’ll begin with an excerpt from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ of which I grow fonder and fonder as the years go by :

‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.’

I’ll begin with the things my detractors and slanderers will ignore. Here and on Twitter, there’s been a distressing number of people grossly oversimplifying my carefully-argued article .E.g. (these are rough summaries, I can’t be bothered to trawl through the slurry for the exact wordings) : ‘Peter Hitchens says EU is responsible for MH17 shootdown’ , ‘Go and work for RT where you belong!’ or curious claims that I have just said what I say because I am in the pay of Russia, or to play a game. Or I am something called a ‘contrarian’, who takes up contrary positions for the sake of it.

None of this is true.

I write and speak what I believe to be true.  

I try when I do so to overcome any fear of being in a minority, or of being howled down by a conformist mob. It is a human duty to refuse to be cowed by mobs, real or electronic.

But I must admit the experience of being slandered, interrogated as if I were a defendant at a show-trial, distorted and abused, simply for urging caution in face of what might become a rush for war, is unpleasant and dispiriting. After an hour or so of tangling with it on Twitter yesterday afternoon (at one stage I was actually accused by one of these twisters of excusing the killings of such brave journalists as Anna Politkovskaya), I went off to Evensong at Oxford Cathedral, partly to pray for the souls of my attackers (though with no very great hope of success).  

Our Strange Willingness to be Rushed into War

Had we not been in the midst of two major outbreaks of tension (The Ukraine and Gaza, where I repeat that I think the Israeli attack is both morally wrong and a severe political mistake), I had planned today to review a new book by Douglas Newton ‘The Darkest Days – the truth behind Britain’s rush to war 1914’ ,published by Verso tomorrow (22nd July), £20.

Professor Newton’s book has already been attacked in at least one review, and I’m not equipped to judge its historical scholarship, as I’m no specialist in this field. But it is in step with Barbara Tuchman’s superb ‘The Guns of August’ in showing how a small and determined group, headed by Henry Wilson, secretly committed Britain to an unwritten but binding military alliance with France in the years before 1914.

Some People Really do Want Wars to Start

This was kept secret from the Cabinet and Parliament, who were falsely told that no such commitment existed, when in fact there were detailed plans for Anglo-French naval co-operation and for the deployment of British troops in France.

Did you know that four members of Asquith’s Cabinet actually resigned in protest at moves towards war in the days before the actual declaration? Few do. Herbert Asquith and Edward Grey successfully persuaded them to keep their resignations secret, and persuaded some but not all of them to return to government.  John Burns and John Morley emerge as men of some principle, and their warnings against the danger of such a war are terrifyingly prophetic. Ramsay Macdonald, whom I had previously rather despised, was not in government but led the Labour Party at that time. He also emerges as a courageous and almost lone opponent of war during the wretched, powerless, misinformed, overwrought, propagandized and brief debate which the House of Commons was allowed before the slaughter began. David Lloyd George, by contrast, shows up as a complete weathercock, swinging in the wind.

It is doubtful if the radicals could have stopped the war, as the Tories were only too keen to start it,  and would readily have formed a Coalition with pro-war Liberals, including Winston Churchill (then of course a Liberal), whose unilateral commitment of the Royal Navy to war stations deepened our commitment to France and made war more likely.

Emotional pretexts for war are seldom the real reason for it  

Newton is also adamant that war was already decided upon *before* Germany invaded Belgium (it was a pretext invented later) , that Britain was absolutely not treaty-bound to aid Belgium, and that the British government tried very hard to avoid all mention that its alliance with France also meant an alliance with Tsarist Russia, regarded by right-thinking people of the time as a monstrous tyranny, suppurating with anti-Semitism and corruption.

I fear that Newton gives too much credence and  importance to German efforts to keep Britain out , as I am sure Germany did want war with Russia, sure that Germany knew this must mean war with France as well, and I suspect that Germany had always planned to attack through Belgium and would never have been diverted from it. What is interesting about this period, though is that the famous Anglo-German naval race had in fact ended with a British victory some years before 1914, and was not really an issue any more.

And we all know that much (though not all) of the atrocity reports emerging from Belgium in August 1914 was false, and exaggerated  - and that compared with what was to come in ‘legitimate’ warfare conducted by both sides, it was quite minor.

I’m also in the midst of a wonderful work by Adam Tooze (The Deluge, the Great War and the Remaking of the Global Order: Allen Lane £30) , a refreshing departure from the standard-issue account, concentrating on the way in which 1914 transferred power from Britain to the USA, and providing details about the cost and financing of the war which are similar to the little-known things I discussed in my recent Radio 4 programme, about the transfer of gold across the Atlantic and the financial humiliation of the British Empire by Washington in 1940). Professor Tooze’s account of the Washington Naval Treaty is also lucid and brutal.

What I think about MH17

So, with all this in mind, I turn sadly to the horrors of Grabovo, the wreckage, the bodies of the dead, the claim and counter claim.

Those who have not read my column item on the subject, published on Sunday , are urged to do so here

It does not excuse the action. It does not say ‘the EU caused the shootdown’. It explains the context, which is undeclared war between two major European power blocs, and which was indubitably and indisputably started by the EU, in the knowledge that its action was provocative.

How did this dispute become violent?

Russia’s long-term alarm about the policy of NATO expansion up to its borders was articulated more than seven years ago in this speech by Mr Putin, in language of extraordinary bluntness. It is fair to say that nobody in the ‘West’  paid any attention.

I should also point out that serious anti-Putin commentators, such as Michael Mosbacher in a recent edition of Standpoint magazine, do not pretend that the EU’s move into Ukraine, through the ‘Association Agreement’  is non-political:

‘Much more than a trade agreement’

‘The critics are right that the Association Agreement is much more than a free-trade agreement. In Article Seven it commits Ukraine to "promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy". Article Ten of the agreement provides for "increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations" and exploring the potential of military-technological cooperation.

He adds:

'The agreement may indeed undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, but surely is nothing compared to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. While the latter may on paper be nothing more than a customs union does anyone seriously believe that it will remain as such? Has Putin's aggression in Ukraine not rather proven the point that Ukrainian sovereignty is not high on his list of priorities?’

(You can find the full context in the third section of the article here )

I agree with Mr Mosbacher that the Eurasian Customs Union is also political as well as economic. Of course it is. This is a military-political struggle, which was fought without bloodshed through diplomacy and politics until President Viktor Yanukovych rejected the Association Agreement on 29th November (proposing instead a three-way commission of Ukraine, EU and Russia which would have left Ukraine as neutral or non-aligned between the blocs).

At that point Clausewitz stepped in, and war climbed out of its gory, bone-heaped cave, to continue policy by other means.  But it was a postmodern war, so a lot of people have yet to recognize it as such, expecting something out of 'War Picture Library'.

A common misconception

Putin, by the way, loathes Yanukovych, who angered him, by squeezing billions of roubles out of him in tough negotiations over Russian rights in the naval base at Sevastopol, a few months before. The idea that Yanukovych was Putin’s pet does not stand up to examination.

It was at that point that huge numbers of people suddenly allegedly discovered that they could no longer stomach the corruption which has in fact been a feature of Ukrainian public life since that country broke away from the USSR (and indeed before then) and the ‘Euromaidan’ protests began, which were not free of violence and intimidation, which were extra-constitutional, which were openly supported by American and EU political and official figures including Senator John McCain, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (with her bags of bread and biscuits), by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs  and  by Guido Westerwelle, former Foreign Minister of Germany.

Coincidence theory – and a Miracle on the Dnieper

Quite why there should have been this spontaneous eruption of discontent at Ukraine’s corrupt and undemocratic nature, which had gone on so long with so little protest before and since the (equally coincidental) ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004 and 2005, must be a matter for coincidence theorists to resolve. Presumably it has now died down because Petro Poroshenko’s government has miraculously solved the problem of Ukrainian corruption. Or perhaps there is another explanation.

WE don’t do this, of course

It is of course quite unknown for the governments of Western countries to intervene in the internal politics of nations in which they have interests, so we can rule out any connection between the desires of those governments and the appearance of well-organised demonstrations against a President who was frustrating a EU attempt to gather Ukraine into its sphere of influence.

The head of the CIA takes a cultural vacation

Likewise, the later appearance of CIA Director John Brennan in Kiev last April  was purely done for schmoozing and tourism purposes. As Mr Brennan has since said  (one account is here)

I was out there to interact with our Ukrainian partners and friends. I had the opportunity to walk through the streets of Kiev and also go to Maidan Square and see the memorials to those Ukrainians trying to find liberty and freedom for their people.’

Mr Brennan said that the situation in Ukraine is ‘something that needs to be addressed” and insisted that the US wants “the Ukrainian people to have their ability to define their future.’

‘We here at the CIA can work with our partners in Ukraine and other areas to give them the information, the capabilities that they need in order to bring security and stability back to their country.’

WE don’t do that either, but THEY do

In recent months, doubtless coincidentally, Ukraine’s ill-equipped, poorly trained and largely feeble armed forces have begun to put up much more of a fight in their struggle against the pro-Russian militias which have undoubtedly been encouraged and assisted by Moscow, almost certainly via Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU.

Constitutions? Who cares about them? We’re democrats!

Last winter’s mob pressure, uncritically backed by Western media,  led to the unlawful overthrow of President Yanukovych, who was then removed without resort to the provisions on impeachment in the Ukrainian constitution, and replaced by a government willing to sign the Association Agreement.

 Violence and lawlessness beget violence and lawlessness – as usual

From these violent and lawless events date the sometimes violent and undoubtedly lawless Russian actions, including seizure of Crimea and encouragement of secessionists in eastern Ukraine, which have since grown into a small but savage war, in which hundreds of civilians are believed to have died, often at the hands of Ukrainian armed forces.

The Laws of War explained

Whose fault is this?

This is a simple matter of the normal rules of engagement between countries. The nation which first unleashes violence, and which - by any means - forces its power into disputed, non-aligned or neutral territory is a) the aggressor. So that  b) it has licensed matching behaviour by its opponent, and c) is ultimatelyresponsible for the later acts of violence which take place because armed conflict has begun. 

Arithmetic, geometry and geography all show that the EU began this conflict by its open encouragement of unconstitutional lawlessness in Kiev.

I am, by the way,  seeking details of civilian deaths and injuries in this war so far,  from the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, the nearest we have to an impartial observer in this zone). A figure of 250 deaths in the Lugansk region has been suggested, but my e-mails to the OSCE have not yet been answered and I have not yet been able to confirm its origin.

For a little background to this I refer readers to a publication that cannot be accessed online except via  paywall, but which I have here in front of me .

Funnelling Euros to Kiev – and groundwork in Brussels

It is the American Spectator, a magazine for which I sometimes write, and it appears in an article (July/August issue, pp 28-30), broadly sympathetic to the Euromaidan and Ukraine’s alignment with the EU, by Matthew Omolesky

In his sometimes lyrical article, Mr Omolesky refers to a 2004 address to the European Parliament by the Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych ‘Europe is waiting for us, it cannot endure without us… Europe will not continue to be in all its fullness without Ukraine.’

Mr Omolesky says ‘Some might take issue with the rather grandiose claim that Europe cannot endure without Ukraine, but the European Union has long had designs on it. Brussels funnelled some 389 million Euros to Ukraine between 2011 and 2013 alone and distributions were made to a host of civil-society NGOs…

...The 2014 protests, touched off by Yanukovych’s rejection of a European Union association deal, constitute the natural and immediate consequence of groundwork undertaken in Brussels, much to the Kremlin’s chagrin’.

Why Ukraine really, really matters to the USA

It’s useful, at this point, to recall words written by Zbigniew Brzezinski( Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, and the unsung architect of Moscow’s doomed intervention and eventual downfall in Afghanistan. He wrote in his 1997 book ‘The Grand Chessboard’ : ‘Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’

‘However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.’

Now do you see why this might be important?

Pay Attention at the Back!

I have attempted some brief history lessons about this interesting, much-contested  this region here before,




and here
…though some of the class seem to have been looking out of the window at the time.

But if you look you will find that the real, dangerous and decisive battles for territory between Berlin and Moscow (in 1914-18 with Vienna fighting alongside Berlin) took place precisely in this region. Distracted by our own narrow obsession with the Western Front, most British and American people are pitifully unaware of this aspect of both World Wars.

If you don’t know what happened at the Peace of Brest-Litovsk, if you have never heard of Stepan Bandera, if you don’t know what Lemberg is now called or how many countries it has been in since 1914, then you need to know. Once you do, you will understand that we see here the re-ignition of one of the great disputes of modern Europe. That is why it is so dangerous, and above all so dangerous to be rushed into hostile hysteria.

Sponsoring Terrorism

And now we come to the heart of the dispute. The new Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has attracted some attention by saying that President Putin is ‘sponsoring terrorism’ .

Things aren’t always as they appear

I think he got carried away. I have known Mr Fallon, a funny, clever, enjoyably blunt politician, since I reported on the 1983 Darlington by-election which he lost (to the great grief of the Labour Party’s right wing, who had secretly wanted their own side to lose so that they could stage a putsch against Michael Foot and install Denis Healey as leader instead). 

Labour unexpectedly won because the Social Democrat candidate’s vote collapsed after he was shown up on TV as embarrassingly inexperienced. So it was a good lesson, for all involved, in the difference between appearance and reality, and the importance of unintended consequences.

 A misplaced accusation

 The accusation of sponsoring terror is wrong in a number of ways.

Most importantly, it mistakes the nature of the outrage. The need to guard myself against lying and slanderous misrepresentation means this will take a little longer than it should in a civilized debate. The destruction of the Malaysian airliner and the killing of those aboard was a foul and inexcusable action. But there is no evidence that the culprits, whoever they may have been, intended to hit a civil airliner and kill its passengers. Such an action would serve no purpose for any conceivable culprit.
It is most likely that they believed their target was a Ukrainian military aeroplane.

Terrorists, by contrast, have more than once deliberately killed airline passengers, or other non-combatant innocents  in large numbers, in the belief (sadly often justified) that it will advance their cause.  Men who planned and executed such outrages have lived to become ‘statesmen’ , welcomed in the halls of diplomacy. Or their chiefs and backers have lived to see their objective obtained as a result of the fear and horror engendered by the action.

The Ukrainian government, understandably, has milked the outrage for all it is worth, and introduced the word ‘terrorist’ into the discussion at the earliest moment, In fact, it has long been using this word to describe the anti-Kiev separatists against which Ukraine has been fighting a bitter war for some months. In general, impartial media have declined to follow the lead set by Kiev. Presumably this is because they regard the word as contentious in this case, raising ( as it does) questions about the legitimacy of the Kiev government itself, and questions about the methods adopted by the Ukrainian armed forces to put down the rebels.

What does ‘terrorism’ mean?

The rebels have certainly behaved in disgraceful ways, but so have the Ukrainian forces, about whose exact composition, discipline and legality it would be interesting to know more. There are no saints in war. The Ukrainians appear to have been careless of civilian deaths in a way which (rightly) brings criticism on to the heads of the Israelis.

If the Israelis did this in Gaza, you’d rightly be against it

Ukrainian shells have landed on Russian territory with fatal effect, and Ukrainian forces are heavily suspect in the death of 11 civilians at Snizhne last week, when it is believed a block of flats was attacked from the air. There is some apprehension all round about how Ukrainian forces will avoid grave civilian casualties if , having recaptured Slavyansk with heavy use of artillery, they now use the same methods in densely-urban Donyetsk, (I have been there, I know what it’s like)  the rebels’ main stronghold.   

So far as I know, the rebels have not resorted to the methods generally associated with terrorism in Ireland and the Middle East – the car bomb, the hijack, the placing of bombs in bars and shopping areas. Though they have, disgracefully, held hostages.

I am not (despite what my attackers will claim) saying the rebels are nice. I am just saying that ‘terrorist’ is a contentious name for them.

Anyway, the destruction of the plane does not seem to me to be a terrorist act, not least because it so unlikely to have been deliberate.

A simple question

Here’s a simple question. Do you think Vladimir Putin was pleased or sorry when he learned of the shooting down of the airliner and the deaths of those involved?


A terrorist would have been pleased. That is what they do.

Letting your bias close your mind to the truth

Now, for the sponsoring. I was very, very pro-American when, as a defence reporter back in 1988, I found myself writing about the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes ( and by the way, I mentioned the number of children on board in my earlier mention of this because it might not be known to modern readers, whereas the large number of children killed in this latest outrage is all too well-known. It is amazing how careful one must be to avoid accusations of bias).

In 1988, because of my then strongly pro-American leanings, I was anxious not to believe that the US Navy was really responsible for something so terrible, and so I was regrettably ready to believe all kinds of excuses and to sympathize (quite wrongly as I now think) with the commander of the Vincennes.

I’m still ashamed of that mistake. I hope I have learned from it. So though I am openly sympathetic to Russia in its quarrel with the EU and the US over the future of Ukraine, I can see that by far the most likely culprits for this crime are the Russian separatists, who have been encouraged, armed, equipped and assisted in many other ways by Russia.  The same separatists have used surface-to-air missiles to bring down several Ukrainian military planes in the last few weeks, though this has not been widely reported, and most involved seem to regard it as falling within the laws of war.

Careful what you believe, and remember WMD. 

Beyond that, I would like to know a lot more. The question of how the rebels acquired that particular surface-to-air missile seems not to be settled, though many write and speak as though it is. Their information comes from the same sort of sources who brought us WMD in Iraq, and who tried to panic us into backing islamic fanatics in Syria - and which need to be treated with the usual caution.  It seems to me that loud declarations of blame and guilt should be held back until we know quite a bit more, and when I say ‘know’, I don’t mean from some partisan ‘dossier’.

I mentioned the Vincennes episode (and that of Siberian Air flight 1812)  in my Sunday column not to excuse anyone, but to point out that the question of intent was important, and that similarly hideous incidents,  quite unforgiveable and unbearable to those bereaved, have ended with muttered compromise rather than with loud declarations of clear guilt and strong justice. Before anyone draws himself up to his full height on this, whether in Britain (where as I recall Lady Thatcher was inclined to sympathize with the dilemma faced by the captain of the Vincennes) Ukraine or the USA, I think we should begin softly and get louder if the evidence justifies it, rather than start loud and then back off later.

For what purpose does it serve to heat the matter up? It is quite bad enough that, exactly a century since Europe rumbled towards the worst war of modern times, there is now a bloody territorial war raging on the same Russo-German faultline that opened up in the earthquake of 1914.

Whichever side you take, or if you take neither, there is no joy to be had in cranking up the passions and the rhetoric to the point where diplomatic relations are broken and combat more likely to continue.

And, seen through the stained and darkened lens of suspicion and rage, even the ghastly, pitiful events at the crash site can be turned from the more-than-sufficient horror which it already is, into another cause for war. Let us not be hurried down this slope, either. Not all the reporters at the scene, ready as they often are to join inthe lecturing,  have behaved with perfect propriety.

The downed airliner and its slain passengers fell in the midst of a war zone, yet within the reach of electronic media. This has not happened before in modern times, so far as I know.   No ordered or effective government controls the area.  The eventual destination of the bodies and wreckage has become extremely sensitive because of the powerful involvement of propagandists.

Evidence is always better than unsupported claims

What passes for authority is a rabble of undisciplined men without experience, knowledge or tact. This is ghastly, but until there is actual evidence of looting, of deliberate theft or destruction of evidence, of desecration of the beloved dead, do you think it might be both wiser and kinder to refrain from too much attribution of guilt, crime and evil motives?

The ordinary fellow-creatures of ours who live in this place are , I have no doubt, at least as grieved and desolated by what they see around them as any of us would be. Most are traped in their homes by circumstances they hate. And in that impoverished and war-blackened place, they lack (as we would not) the costly apparatus of modern government to help them deal with it quickly and efficiently. Judge not, lest ye be judged. And if you hate the sight of torn human bodies, especially of the dead bodies of innocents,  do and say nothing which might spread cruel red war deeper and further into our continent. We have been playing with danger quite enough already.

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