I’ve just returned from two weeks in Cuba - not the easiest place from which to follow world news. The internet is restricted and slow, wifi scarcely exists and the English language edition of the island’s only daily newspaper, Granma, publishes mainly stagnant propaganda on behalf of the Castro brothers.
As a result, I’ve had to catch up with the tragic story of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine on its scheduled route between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, resulting in almost 300 deaths. Western countries and the current authorities in Kiev claim that the passenger plane was struck by a missile fired by ‘pro-Russian’ forces and supplied by Russia. These allegations are refuted by the separatists and have drawn a flat denial from the government in Moscow.
For the time being, it is difficult to determine the exact truth. Investigators from the Netherlands are struggling to access the crash site, which lies in territory fiercely contested by both sides in Ukraine’s civil war. It is certainly likely enough that the plane was mistaken for a Ukrainian military aircraft and shot down. It is also possible that the US government is manipulating intelligence information, to distort aspects of the incident deliberately, for propaganda purposes.
Whatever the precise details, this loss of life is another tragic result of war. The eastern part of Ukraine has become an out and out warzone within Europe, with all the dreadful consequences which that entails. There are dangers now in the air above the contested region, as well as on the ground. Human Rights Watch says that forces loyal to the facto government in Kiev have been launching unguided Grad missiles aimed at suburbs around Donetsk and at the weekend there were reports of more civilian casualties.
War causes chaos, misery and death, often indiscriminately and almost always impacting civilians directly. Its effects can easily spill out beyond the confines of the warzone.
It is easy to cast Vladimir Putin as the villain whose nationalist ambitions have plunged Ukraine into anarchy and Russia’s opportunism when it annexed Crimea was one of the defining moments of the crisis. However, it was not Putin's government that sponsored ‘regime change’ on the streets of Kiev, targeting a President who was, for all his faults, elected democratically.
Ukrainians, whether they look to Washington or Moscow, are victims of governments which have used them as the rope in a political ‘tug of war’, resulting in a vicious civil conflict. They have been joined now in their victimhood by the passengers of flight MH17.