Let me make some things clear first. I am an avowed Russophile. Russia is one of two countries/regions that I absolutely admire in this world (the other being the British Isles). Russia’s size, from Archangelsk to Anadyr, and the absolute diversity of people that live within its borders, from the Karelians to the Chukchis is what attracts me to it. As does its history -- its founding by the Varangians, its Tsars and Tsarvenas and of course, its Soviets. And most importantly, the Russians’ never-say-die spirit, so much on display in Borodino and Stalingrad.
But yesterday’s downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane on the Ukranian steppe, near where the mighty Don empties into the Sea of Azov has left me angry, very angry with my favourite country on earth.
Never before have 300 innocent people paid with their lives for one nation’s political machinations. Though it is still unconfirmed, much of the evidence gleaned so far points fingers directly at ethnic Russian separatists shooting down the M17 after mistaking it for a Ukrainian military craft. All this is further substantiated when one considers that the pro-western regime in Kiev has no writ over the remote area in eastern Ukraine where the plane crashed. Also, nobody but the Russian separatists could have had the wherewithal (read Buk missile system) to shoot down a plane at 33,000 feet above the ground. All this has been discussed on media networks ever since the tragedy was reported.
For too long, since the Cold War ended, the rest of the world has been oblivious to Russian intrigues in the former parts of its erstwhile Soviet empire. It is the Kremlin that has long propped up the corrupt regimes in the five Central Asian ‘-stans’. It is again the Kremlin that brutally repressed armed insurrections in the Caucasus - in Chechnya and Dagestan (though as an Indian whose country faces a similar insurrection in Kashmir, I whole-heartedly support Moscow’s fight against the Chechens). It is the Kremlin that was responsible for the Abkhazia conflagration, where Georgia became a victim. A few months ago this year, it was the Kremlin that took over the Crimea. And now, it is the Kremlin that wants to swallow Russian-dominated eastern Ukraine.
Russia is India’s dear friend and supporter. While I was not born in 1971, I know the role that the Soviets played in the Bangladesh Liberation War, stopping hostile US and British naval units sent to the Bay of Bengal to support the beleagured Pakistanis in East Pakistan. Our weapons, defence systems are all of Soviet make. Even more important is Russia’s cultural impact on Indian consciousness in the 20th century, especially vis-a-vis socialism and communism. Even today, under Vladimir Putin, Russia and India remain friends.
But a spade must be called a spade. I must also admit here that I was an admirer of Putin till yesterday. Putin, the strongman of Russia, who took on Chechen separatists, Russian oligarchs, Europeans and Americans, and defeated them all. Putin, that 'heroic son' of Mother Russia who is an ardent nationalist, a devout Orthodox Christian, someone who has rescued Russia from the abyss that it was falling into post-1991 and is once again taking it to the path of superpower status.
No longer. The M17 incident has increased my hatred for Putin more than anything else.
The bottomline is: Under Putin, Russia today resembles a rogue brown bear, an angry Grizzly that is destroying everything in its path. Before this behemoth causes further damage, it must be neutralised. Messrs Obama, Cameron, Hollande and other world leaders must immediately take steps to halt Putin and Russia in its tracks.