Editorial: opinion of Western public pivoting against Putin

Please note that the article is more than five years old and belongs to our archive. We do not update the content of the archives, so it may be necessary to consult newer sources.
Photo: Reuters/ScanPix

The consequences of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy are largely up to public opinion in the West. In other words: how the event reaches the man in the street, the one – on a democracy – taking the once-in-a-while walk to the ballot box at election time. Over these past few days, we are detecting changes here, as reflected by editorials of newspapers, news, and social media.

It would be wrong to start talking about Western eyes opening or long held illusions crumbling. That’d be an approach overly superficial – the issue being far more complex and dating back to history, culture, economic ties and what not. Rather, we would do well to focus on the circumstances of the case at hand which will obviously leave a mark on any domain and field, even such as used to be directed by everyday pragmatism.

We, Estonians, may find this hard to grasp, but the average Western European has up to now viewed the events in Ukraine as unrest somewhere far away. As a matter of fact, whatever happens to the East of a certain line is often regarded as some abstract «Russian stuff». And, as it happens, thru the history Russia has been known to be a land of mystery, a land peculiar and eccentric...

This, however, serves to explain the evident alteration in public opinion. If whatever is happening is some «Russian stuff», who do they turn to for answers? To the boss at Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, of course. Then, as Moscow keeps beating about the bush and firing accusations, instead of focussing its rhetoric on compassion, need of thorough research etc (as would be the normal reaction to a typical Western leader), while the Westerners are shown shocking photos and video clips of treatment of victims in ways totally incomprehensible to the Western mind, and it is hinted that investigators aren’t being allowed to work freely, arrows of criticism increasingly sharp are starting to hit Mr Putin.

Attitudes of the people are felt by media. Editorials headlined «Putin becoming international pariah», «President Putin guilty of crime», «Europe against Russia» (Australian and British papers being especially intense) aren’t incidental. This will also explain the ever sharpening reactions of leaders elected by citizens. Criticism towards Mr Putin is coming from mouths of politicians who were quite subdued even after Crimea was annexed. A proof of a kind is Mr Putin’s own nervous/defensive reaction at yesterday’s press event which may have been meant for domestic consumption but comes across in the West as adding fuel to the fire. 

Based on our experience, we do draw different conclusions regarding Russia. And that’s why it is vital to follow the tendencies in Western public opinion. Thru that, we may enter the grounds of common understanding – vastly important when it comes to our own security.