THEY stood in respectful silence at Eindhoven air base, yesterday, as the bodies of 40 victims of the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 were brought home.
Members of the Dutch royal family, politicians, and hundreds of relatives of those killed when the airliner was brought down last week over Ukraine watched as honour guards carried coffin after coffin from two military planes. The traumatic process of identifying the dead could at last begin.
As this devastating scene of human loss played out, there were reports that the pro-Russian separatists blamed for the MH17 atrocity had shot down two Ukrainian jets. Any hope that the murder of 298 people – and international reaction to it – might take the heat out of the conflict in Ukraine has come to nothing.
Almost a week after MH17 was torn apart, it seems timely to ask just how much progress has been made in identifying the perpetrators of these murders.
This must be the focus of the international community. And it is a time for our political leaders to speak as one.
Instead, yesterday the British political classes put much of their energy into arguing about a tennis match. It was most unedifying.
The Conservative Party was under pressure to return a £160,000 donation made by the wife of a former member of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s government. Lubov Chernukhin’s winning bid at a Tory fundraising event entitles her to play tennis with Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Labour MP Chris Bryant said the money must be returned or Mr Putin would “laugh at” Mr Cameron’s attempts to act on the situation in Ukraine. The Tories argued that, not only was Ms Chernukhin’s husband Vladimir estranged from the Russian leader, but that she was a British citizen and her donation was perfectly legitimate.
In the current climate, this spat seems a frivolous distraction when the Prime Minister – and the leaders of all political parties at Westminster – should be focused on getting to the truth of what happened last Thursday and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable. International rhetoric of the past week seems to have had no effect on the situation in Ukraine. Mr Putin betrays no sign that he is ready to call off the Moscow-sponsored militia believed to have targeted flight MH17.
In the face of such intransigence, it is hardly useful for politicians to bog themselves down in a game of “who has the moral high ground?”
There may be no simple solutions to what is happening in Ukraine, there may be hellish difficulties ahead in completing an investigation into the murders of those on MH17.
Politicians will not find the challenges ahead any easier if they divert their energies into cheap point scoring.
Lets hope the wildcat will be saved
IT’S a creature we immediately associate with Scotland, yet few of us have ever seen one in the flesh.
The Scottish wildcat is one of the world’s most endangered animals. Experts estimate there may be as few as 35 pure-bred specimens left. The chance of the animal becoming extinct is very real indeed.
But we should be encouraged by the work of conservationists in the Scottish Highlands which may yet save the wildcat.
The Ardnamurchan peninsula in the north-west has been identified as a sanctuary for wildcats. Conservationists will now begin a programme of capturing, neutering and freeing feral cats in the area to prevent them from breeding with wildcats. It is this breeding, says geneticist Dr Paul O’Donoghue, scientific adviser to the project, that poses the biggest danger to the wildcat population.
Over time, say the organisers of the Wildcat Haven Project, the feral cat population will be humanely eradicated, ensuring more pure breeding among endangered animals.
Often, when a species has become extinct, responsibility has lain with mankind. The environmental cost of human progress has frequently been high. So let us hope that human intervention, in this instance, can have positive effects.
The Scottish wildcat is a magnificent creature which has roamed the Highlands for thousands of years and become part of the iconography of Scotland.
It would be a dreadful pity if it came to pass that the only ones left were those bred and kept in captivity. It is in all our interests to try to ensure the greatest diversity of species; this wildcat is Scotland’s responsibility so we should take it very seriously indeed.