How Much Are Ukrainian and Malaysian Lives Worth?

When Vladimir Putin’s proxies shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet with close to 300 passengers over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, I was shocked.

But I wasn’t shocked on July 15th, when the former head of the Ukrainian General Staff stated that 330 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the course of Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine, while the press liaison of the National Security and Defense Council said the correct number was 258. Both numbers were immediately wrong, as some 10 soldiers were killed that day.

The sad fact is that I’m getting used to Putin’s killing spree.

I still remember when the first demonstrator was killed on the Maidan back in January. What a shock that was. And then the mass sniper shootings in late February. What an outrage. The victims came to be known as the Heavenly Hundred and memorials to them still dot the area around Kyiv’s Independence Square.

Now, I read of another 5 or 10 or 15 soldiers being killed and I shrug. Is it 258 or 330? Do they have names? Did they ever have lives? Will they be remembered?

In the meantime, Putin’s commandoes keep on killing. To what end?  

The Russian militants in eastern Ukraine have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the local population. The formerly pro-Russian populations that the Ukrainian army recently liberated have been genuinely relieved to be free of Russian rule. Unsurprisingly, Putin’s standing in the Donbas, a region that traditionally had regarded him with admiration, has plummeted.

What can continued Russian escalation of the bloodshed accomplish? It can inflict harm on the Ukrainian army and volunteer forces—and only increase Ukrainian soldiers’ resolve to fight. It can increase the physical destruction of the Donbas—and only further alienate civilians. It can encourage the militants to engage in more human rights abuses and atrocities—and thereby outrage the international community. It could even impel the morally desensitized Europeans to impose genuinely painful sanctions on Russia.

And just what does Russia gain from continued escalation? It could establish control over parts of the Russo-Ukrainian border and save its proxies from total defeat. That would permit Putin to save face with his cronies and a Russian population that’s been whipped up to a hyper-nationalist frenzy. But this victory would at best be Pyrrhic. Would Russia annex the territories it devastated? Would it eventually retreat? Neither option qualifies as a strategic victory.

The fact is that Putin has maneuvered himself and Russia into a dead end.

Having seized the Crimea and provided the insurgents in eastern Ukraine with personnel, advice, money, and arms, Putin has only succeeded in galvanizing Ukrainians—both Ukrainian and Russian speakers—against himself and imbuing them with a sense of unity, purpose, and patriotism that had previously eluded them . Ukrainians know that their survival, as a country and as a nation, is on the line: they have no choice but to fight. At this point, nothing short of Kremlin-sponsored genocide and ethnic cleansing would end Ukrainian resistance.

Meanwhile, despite the growing numbers of Ukrainian deaths, France insists that it will go ahead with the sale to Russia of two Mistral-class assault ships. No matter that Russia has invaded Ukraine. No matter that war—remember: it used to be “unthinkable” in Europe—has come to Europe. No matter that Europeans are dying every day. The sale must go on. After all, 1,000 jobs are at stake.

If you figure that, thus far, about 100 Ukrainians lost their lives on the Maidan and another 100 civilians and 275 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the war with Russia, then, all told, about 500 Ukrainians have died for “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Which translates into one Ukrainian life for two French jobs—or exactly 166.66 lives per inspiring word. At the rate things are going, one Ukrainian life will soon be worth far less than one French job. In a year or two, it might even go for the price of a steak frites on the Boul’ Mich. The good news is that, unless Putin’s proxies shoot down more Malaysian airliners, the value of one Malaysian life will remain constant at 3.33 French jobs.

Putin recently called Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels a “talented person” who was “achieving his goals.”

So, evidently, is Putin.

So who’s next? Estonia, Latvia, or Delta?

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