Ever since Russian President Vladmir Putin annexed Crimea in March, Russia has armed rebels in eastern Ukraine in order to destabilize the newly elected central government in Kiev. But that insurgency erupted into an international incident last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky, likely by a surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia to the rebels.
Rather than acknowledge that his experiment in expansionism had gone awry, Mr. Putin and the Russian media denied any involvement, blaming the Ukrainian army and even the West for the tragedy. Mr. Putin’s propagandists may spin or deny the facts as much as they want, but it is clear that Russia should drop its ill-considered campaign to punish the Ukrainian people for ousting their previous corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Australia, which lost 27 citizens on the flight, announced that it would send 50 police officers backed up by 150 soldiers to secure the crime scene. And recent reports indicate that Russian troops have begun artillery shelling of Ukraine from across the border, raising the specter of a widening European conflict. While rebels have wrongly restricted access to international investigators, sending in armed emissaries of another government amid all the chaos could lead to an escalation. No one wants that.
Though sanctions often target those who are least involved in their country’s decision-making, they are far superior to a long and protracted war between military giants. The United States has already expanded its sanctions to several of Russia’s largest companies, but the rest of Europe seems reluctant to do so because of the allure of Russia’s cheap energy and other business dealings.
But the downing of MH17 shows that Russian aggression harms more than just Ukraine. Its actions should come at a cost. Better that Russia back down because of financial interest than spread the bloodshed across Europe.