The downing of MH 17 shifts spotlight back to Ukraine

The downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine has been one of the major events of last week. Most of the fingers of blame have been pointed at the pro-Russian separatists who have previously shot down Ukrainian military aircraft with sophisticated Russian surface to air missiles (though both sides have access to such weaponry).

The photographs are quite harrowing – personally I find the ones of toys and books etc. to keep children happy during the flight the most distressing. All sorts of allegations are now flying around accusing the separatists of trying to impede the attempts at an independent investigation though it is only fair to state that most western media and governments seem to have prejudged those responsible.

There have been several calls for further sanctions on Russia with colourful calls to “shackle” Putin from Max Hastings in the Daily Mail.

A slightly more nuanced approach has come from Masha Alekhina (from Pussy Riot) in the Guardian. No friend of Putin she has, however, pointed out that it was “a stupid, horrible accident.”

The mess in Ukraine leaves no one there meriting all blame or opprobrium. The pro-Russian rebels are waging a violent campaign but equally the Ukrainian government and those fighting for them include ultra right fascist groups. The previous Ukrainian government was highly corrupt but was elected. Its overthrow was supported by Europe and the USA after they had, under pressure from Moscow, rejected a pro-EU trade deal.

Going back further Russia guaranteed the borders of Ukraine when the USSR broke up but equally it was agreed by the west not to extend NATO to Russia’s border. The boundaries within the old USSR were also drawn fairly arbitrarily including many peoples on the “wrong side” of various borders which had been administratively rather than politically relevant prior to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The question remains whether Putin feels it sufficiently strategically or politically important to take the pro Russian parts of Ukraine as he did with Crimea. If he does there is nothing really the West will be willing to do about it. The danger might be that attempting to humiliate Russia over this episode might be counterproductive.

It is also important whilst the west (especially the USA) is criticizing Russia and Putin personally for this incident that they remember not only (as they have been) Korean Flight 007 shot down by a Russian fighter but also the possibly even closer parallel with Iran Air Flight 655. That was an Iranian Airbus shot down by two missiles from the American cruiser USS Vincennes again with massive loss of life.

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  • Gerry Lynch

    Putin has been backpedalling from the Eastern Ukrainian rebels for at
    least a couple of months now. Hence the failure to back or even arm the
    rebels in Slovyansk when Ukraine government forces were retaking the
    city. This clearly wasn’t in anyone’s gameplan – even the ragtag army
    that is Eastern Ukraine’s unwanted rebel militia force is smart enough
    to see this is a disaster.

    I think the rebels have
    pretty much signed their own death warrant with this, and we’ll all have
    to live with a world where Russia has annexed Crimea but mainland
    Ukraine returns to control from Kiev. Pity it took 200 people to have
    their death warrants signed before sanity returned.

  • Jag

    Russian-backed separatists shot down a civilian plane by accident, thinking it was a Ukrainian military transport plane. That. Is. All.

    After that, it’s just the two factions exploiting the tragic accident for their own ends.

    “Evil Russians deliberately shooting down planes carrying children and AIDS workers. Savage rebels grave-robbing and desecrating the corpses. Back-stabbing Ukrainian regime shot the plane down themselves just to attract more western criticism of Russia. ”

    I don’t know which is more despicable, the photograph of a half naked infant stone cold dead in a ploughed field, or the various factions clambering over the corpses to score political points.

  • Barneyt

    I am concerned about the events that may be triggered by this. The shooting down of the plane cannot have been a deliberate attempt to target a civilian airline, and most would assume this was an attempt to shoot down a spy plane or otherwise “enemy” of those striving for independence in the east, if not an annexation to the motherland itself.

    The shooting down and catastrophic loss of life will go down as a tragic event, and questions regarding the utilisation of such airspace will be raised. Russia needs to exert influence on the rebels to ensure that this is fully investigated and that bodies are returned and treated in a dignified way. They can do this without compromising their support for the ethnics Russians of East Ukraine. The refrigerated train conjures up images from WWII, particularly with the media reporting that the destination of these trains is “unknown”. They gave me a chill.

    Russia needs to thread carefully on this one, and must come clean with respect to their involvement (direct or otherwise). It is not unreasonable for Russia to provide support for the separatists, and there are plenty of precedents in other areas of the world. There are even precedents for the shooting down of a civilian aircraft. However, if the bodies are ferreted away or the investigation is impeded, this event could cause some to lose their patience.

  • AMS2013

    300 dead in an airplane is a war crime.
    300 dead in Gaza..Nothing is said to the killers/murderers of these people.
    Glad there isn’t such hypocrisy and hierachy of victims in Ireland.
    Oh wait . On second thoughts?

  • Yes Russia Needs to Stand in and stop the Ukrainian Separatists in their tracks.