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Growing casualties on the ground, a major escalation of American sanctions against Russia, a military plane shot down, and now the appalling destruction of a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people on board, hit by a surface-to-air missile. The Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.
One man can stop it: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weapons to those groups.
But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire, and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations. President Obama was fully justified in announcing tough new sanctions; the European Union imposed its own less-stringent measures.
On Friday, U.S. officials cited “credible evidence” that a Russian-built anti-aircraft system in a rebel-held location fired the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Russia and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have denied responsibility for the attack. Some rebel leaders blame Ukraine’s military.
However it happened, it is the worst catastrophe of an increasingly costly and brutal conflict that could and should have ended long ago. If Mr. Putin wanted to make a political point about Russian interests, he made it weeks ago.
His sole, cynical interest now is apparently to hurt and punish Ukraine. Mr. Putin and those who support him seem incapable of accepting that their model of government, with all its cronyism, corruption, and bullying, is not the one many former Soviet subjects want.
The Russian leaders prefer not to accept that the Central Intelligence Agency did not engineer the preference of many Ukrainians for what they see in the West. They prefer to proclaim that Russia is the victim of American designs and manipulation — a claim Mr. Putin invoked again in response to the sanctions.
The new sanctions from Washington target some of Russia’s largest energy companies and banks, and more of its senior officials. They are not likely to change Mr. Putin’s mind. But they, along with lesser but still significant European sanctions, should make clear to him that the West will not back down.
And if that fails, how can the innocent victims in the Malaysian jetliner not impress on Mr. Putin that this useless contest must end now?
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