Putin: Grim Reaper of what he has sown in Ukraine

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.


Russian President Vladimir Putin must be held fully accountable for what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has described as the “really grotesque” events surrounding the shooting down, by a Russian-made missile, of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. All 298 people on board the flight were killed. Even if Putin did not intend for Russian separatists in Ukraine to fire the long-range missile at the civilian passenger plane, his aggressive policies against his neighbor Ukraine over the past few months set into motion the events that ultimately caused the downing of the plane.

Appearing on several of the Sunday TV talk shows last weekend, Kerry, a former prosecutor, laid out an iron-clad case against the hollow Russian “denials” of responsibility for the plane’s downing and pathetic attempts to blame the government of Ukraine for the tragedy.

Among other facts cited by Kerry:

• In the past month, more than 150 convoys of lethal weapons have crossed the border into Ukraine from Russia, including tanks and SA-11 rocket launchers. The New York Times reports that at a Kiev news conference, Vitaly Nayda, head of Ukraine counterintelligence, displayed photographs that he said showed three Russian-made Buk-M1 missile systems on the road to the Russian border prior to the downing of the plane

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• U.S. and allied intelligence have intercepts of conversations confirming the movement of the missiles and other weapons and of the self-proclaimed “defense minister” of the Russian separatists bragging about the shoot-down. Then, after learning that a civilian passenger plane was the one shot down, he immediately erased those conversations.

• The so-called Russian separatists include Russian troops and security agents who have the expertise to train the separatists in how to launch the Russian-made missiles.

• Almost as shocking as the horrific shoot-down itself has been the truly grotesque mishandling of the crash site. Kerry reports that international monitors have been given only limited access to the site by “drunken” Russian separatists who are believed to have removed the flight-recording black boxes and are disrespecting the human Fascists returned to the streets, harassing Jewish businesses and beating up Jews, frequently citing the conflict between the authorities in the British Mandate of Palestine and the Zionist Yishuv as justification. 

At a meeting of 43 Jews in the area, who later became known as the “43 Group,” it was decided that enough was enough. The result wasn’t pretty. “In October 1947, the 43 Group was attacking an average of 15 outdoor fascist meetings a week, and by whatever means, causing more than half to close down prematurely,” wrote Morris Beckman in his memoir of the 43 Group’s exploits. 

Those “means” included knives, knuckledusters and bricks. And it worked. By the end of 1949, the fascists had been driven out of east London.

In these dark days, the experience of the 43 Group reminds us that in the not-so-distant past, Jews have refused to accept their lot as passive victims. The challenge now is balancing our respect for the law of the land with our resolve not to allow our synagogues to be burned or ransacked, as they were less than a century ago in Europe.

Used sparingly and when necessary, self-defense is no offense. And if it contributes to the authorities’ taking pre-emptive action against anti-Semitic demonstrations—as has occurred in France, where the police have banned another anti-Semitic rally scheduled for this past weekend in Paris—then so much the better.