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The Straits Times says

The unbearable 'rightness' of might

Russia's rejection of the Dutch Safety Board's findings, from a probe into last year's crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, is another instance of President Vladimir Putin's bully-boy approach to international relations. The board concluded that the jet, with 298 on board, was brought down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile. While the report did not point fingers at anyone in particular, it was obvious from the beginning that the plane was destroyed by rebels widely known to be backed by Moscow. They had been heard on radio intercepts reporting the plane's downing, then receiving a scolding from their handlers as realisation dawned that the felled aircraft was not the Ukrainian transport plane it was thought to be, but a civilian jetliner.

However, rather than getting the rebels to confess their error - recall that in 1988 the United States admitted shooting down an Iranian passenger plane after mistaking it for a fighter jet - Moscow first chose to dodge behind a fog of untruths, none of which found acceptance. It then half-heartedly cooperated with the technical investigation by the Dutch whose results it now rejects. Separately, it also threw doubts on the impartiality of the United Nations-backed Joint Investigation Team. All this after vetoing an attempt to form an international tribunal by those seeking criminal accountability.

Surely, such egregious conduct by the Russians demands a diplomatic price. Malaysia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine and Australia - nations whose citizens were on the plane - deserve widespread support to establish an independent international court via treaty. An effective prosecution mechanism must be put in place to deter future criminal acts of this nature.

The crisis in Ukraine, though seemingly distant, has always been viewed with unease by Asians. Russia's thrust into the Crimea triggered all sorts of fears of big nations trampling on their smaller neighbours in the purported interests of guarding their flanks. The shooting down of MH17 brought that distant conflict into the heart of their fears. If might is right, as Mr Putin's actions imply, it conjures up a new world marked by an "uncontained hyper use of force" (to use his own words), revanchism and growing instability.

That said, it bears reflection whether so much of this could have been avoided if the West had not moved too quickly to woo Ukraine and attempt to winkle it out of Moscow's umbrella of influence. That move, alongside Nato's eastward expansion, was seen as the West reneging on promises made after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It clearly triggered Mr Putin's worst insecurities. Sometimes, it is not a bad idea to let sleeping dogs, and Russian bears, lie. Having roused the irritable beast, it falls upon the world to keep it on a short diplomatic leash.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'The unbearable 'rightness' of might'. Print Edition | Subscribe