Russia bombed a maternity hospital – and the west let them do it

Had Putin been faced with firm resolve before, he would not be pushing his luck now. Like a soldier with a bayonet, he prods the west and has found only mush

Sean O'Grady
Thursday 10 March 2022 22:10 GMT
Mariupol maternity hospital lays in ruins after Russian airstrike
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Bombing a maternity hospital is an atrocity, by definition. The only possible reason for it happening might be that it was collateral damage, or accidentally perpetrated. But the Russians have another story.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a press conference that the Russians deliberately targeted it – because it was not being used as a maternity unit at all, whatever the western journalists claim. Lavrov explained to a disbelieving world that, contrary to the pictures carried by responsible media outlets, this wasn’t a hospital but was in fact a military installation, taken over by the Ukrainian Azov Battalion and “other ultra-right”, “radical” groups.

Lavrov explained that the mothers had already been “driven out” by these extremists. Hence what Lavrov called the “pathetic outcries concerning so-called atrocities” and the biased media coverage. You may think that what you saw was a heavily pregnant woman being carried away on a stretcher, but the foreign minister of the Russian Federation is telling you that she’s a neo-Nazi renegade, or possibly an actor, or else a human shield (which is no justification for the attack anyway). Lavrov invites the world to draw its own conclusions.

That’s Russia’s side of the story, an atrocity against the truth itself, the ultimate in gaslighting. If you’re going to lie, I suppose you might as well go big. But the world has already drawn its conclusions about what it can see, not just in Mariupol but in many other places across Ukraine – just like the previous atrocities and war crimes committed by Russians and Russian stooges in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya.

There must be no equivocation; this is on Putin and his boyars. The whole ethos of the Russian armed forces is a disregard for life, including the lives of the bewildered boy conscripts who were told they would be welcomed by a grateful population. The ends always justify the means. Even if Putin didn’t personally authorise the destruction of hospitals, his army knows he won’t mind. So they go ahead, and the children get buried under the rubble, because they’re neo-Nazis. Anyway, Lavrov has admitted that they knew what they were doing.

Guilty as Putin and his henchmen are, the west also bears responsibility for this tragedy. Had Putin been faced with firm resolve before, he would not be pushing his luck now. Like a soldier with a bayonet, he prods the west and has found only mush. If at any point he detected a real resolve to fight on the part of the west, he would have stopped.

Instead, he found appeasement, collaboration and nervousness. Barack Obama laid down his red lines over Syria, Putin stepped over them – and nothing happened. Donald Trump trashed his own security service in front of the world media at the Helsinki summit with Putin by his side. He tried to make friends with and flatter Putin. He openly questioned the future of Nato, and Putin drew his own conclusions. Trump signed a useless surrender treaty with the Taliban, and Joe Biden over-hastily delivered on it, with the humiliating retreat from Kabul. Afghanistan, supposedly a crucial ally, was abandoned to its grisly fate.

Biden and every western European power gave Putin due notice that they would not fight for Ukraine, and wouldn’t do much more than slap the usual token sanctions on him. They let him have Crimea with not much more than some modest barriers to trade with Russia and some eloquent indignation from Obama.

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What was Putin supposed to think about the west after a decade and a half of empty threats? He prodded his bayonet at us and never found the hard steel of a credible military response. What would the west really do if he invaded Ukraine?

What indeed. Not even the atrocity in Mariupol will provoke western intervention. Not even a single rattly old MiG jet will be lent to the Ukrainians so they can defend their citizens against the next atrocity.

So, because of that, there will certainly be more atrocities. There is disturbing talk about the use of chemical weapons – the red line that Obama laid down in Syria and then forgot about. Maybe they’ll go for battlefield nuclear weapons next, or organise a surrogate Russian militia to plant a dirty bomb in Maidan Square. Whatever happens, Putin may be sure that he will face no retaliation and no direct military action.

Behind the weakness of the west lies public opinion – especially in America, because Nato without the US is nothing. The reason why Obama, Trump and Biden all failed to contain Putin was because they knew that foreign “forever” wars are electoral poison. It doesn’t matter that much who’s in the White House because America has gone isolationist.

America doesn’t want to fight for Georgia or Syria or Ukraine just as it doesn’t want to fight any longer for Afghanistan or Iraq. America grew weary of war, understandably. But unless America is prepared to threaten a war, and are prepared to fight one, the world will never know peace, and plenty more hospitals are going to get bombed.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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