Our Views: A trigger in Kremlin

This is truly a tragic incident. The downing in Ukraine of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet claimed almost 300 innocent lives.

But perhaps, because the flight originated in Amsterdam, the governments of Europe will wake up to the need for intensive and urgent sanctions to roll back Russian aggression against Ukraine.

More than 170 Dutch passengers were reportedly on the plane that U.S. and Ukrainian authorities said was shot down by pro-Russian separatists.

Each soul lost is precious, of course. But the dead included one of the world’s leading AIDS doctors and staff of the World Health Organization, en route to the major AIDS conference in Australia. There are millions in the world who owe a debt to those professionals lost.

Probably the finger on the trigger of the Russian-made SAM was that of a relatively untrained rebel, and it is quite possible that the triggerman thought the target was a Ukrainian military transport; two have been shot down in the fighting so far.

Yet whoever pulled the trigger, the responsibility for this tragedy is in the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a dictator in all but name, has annexed the Crimea in south Ukraine and supported and armed pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern part of the country. Where does a ragtag militia get SAM missiles? They were either stolen from the legitimate government, or given away by the Russians to encourage rebellion.

This reckless policy has already cost lives and disrupted the peace of eastern Europe. The governments of nearby NATO and EU countries are rightly concerned, but when it comes to action, the major powers of western Europe have been lately reluctant to add to the sanctions in the first blush of the sneak attack by the Russian government in February. President Barack Obama had been pushing for new sanctions by our allies.

Now, we hope that the cost in lives and the clear spilling over of the conflict into the skies of Europe will put an end to hesitation and quibbling over detail. The idea of intervening directly, militarily, is obviously not favored by many people in this country or in Europe.

The only policy now should be a steady and increasingly stringent series of sanctions targeted against Russian interests. Keeping them up was already becoming something of a challenge in the summer; the cost of dithering has now been underlined by this latest outrage.