FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Getting to the Bottom of the MH17 Tragedy in Ukraine

by

As the world mourns those who tragically lost their lives when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine last week, Malaysia now finds itself entangled in a distant and largely unfamiliar conflict, one that is rife with geopolitical implications.

The victims were people of various nationalities from all walks of life, whose untimely demise represents an escalation that will almost certainly lead to a wider internationalization of the civil war in Ukraine, which threatens to further deteriorate relations between Russia and the United States.

Ukraine’s war has polarized ethnic Ukrainians living in agricultural west of the country who favor integration into the European Union’s orbit, and those in the Russian-speaking industrialized southeast of the country who either support greater autonomy from Kiev or a peaceful integration into the Russian Federation following the example of Crimea.

Easterners opposed the toppling of former President Viktor Yanukovich in February, which gave rise to an unelected government in Kiev that remains heavily under the influence of ultra-nationalist rightwing groups known for their pejorative anti-Russian viewpoints.

Once seizing power earlier this year, the authorities in Kiev hastily attempted to pass laws against the official use of the Russian language throughout the country, stoking outrage from eastern Ukrainians that culturally and linguistically identify themselves as Russian.

Citizens of the east protested in mass numbers against the new authorities in Kiev and occupied public buildings, spurred on by the fear of living under an ultra-nationalist dominated government that would stigmatize the country’s ethnic Russian minority. Demonstrators called for greater autonomy for their regions.

Instead of easing fears through dialogue and trust building, Kiev labeled demonstrators as ‘terrorists’ and launched a large-scale military operation against the restive eastern regions to put down popular opposition to the new regime’s usurpation of power. Militias formed in the east to defend the rebel provinces, giving rise to the armed struggle that continues today.

In the course of Kiev’s military operation, the Ukrainian authorities have blockaded and cut electricity supplies to populated cities while shelling and launching rockets into populated residential areas, resulting in at least 250 civilian deaths since June, according to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission. Half a million Ukrainians have become refugees according to UN estimates.

Enter MH17. It is in such an antagonistic political atmosphere that both sides immediately assigned blame to one another for downing the aircraft. Before any rudimentary investigation could take place, Kiev and their backers in Washington straightaway took to blaming the rebels, and by extension, the Russian government, which they accuse of aiding the separatist fighters.

After the unprecedented disappearance of MH370 four months ago, news of a second downed airliner stung with shock and disbelief. The overwhelming concern of Malaysians remains to ensure the safe return of casualties for a proper burial, rather than accusing any side of culpability.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose step-grandmother was among those who perished onboard MH17, has been widely perceived as serving a more direct role in handling the disaster from the onset, as he addressed the nation in the hours following the loss of the aircraft.

While media publications and political figures in western capitals hurled accusatory rhetoric from the onset, it is by virtue of Malaysia’s prudent neutrality that the administration in Putrajaya succeeded in brokering a deal with Ukrainian rebel forces that secured the surrender of MH17’s black boxes.

Najib is said to have personally conducted a series of secret telephone calls with Alexander Borodai, the self-styled Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, an entity that has declared independence from Ukraine but has not been recognized by any foreign country.

Though a great deal of international pressure was placed on Ukraine’s rebels to provide access to the crash site and surrender the black boxes, sources claim that Borodai would only agree to releasing the bodies and block boxes to Malaysia, whose officials would then transfer the material to the Netherlands.

Putrajaya’s ability to broker a deal with the Ukrainian rebels has indeed yielded noteworthy success for Najib, who has demonstrated decisive leadership in the face of an unmitigated disaster to secure the best possible outcome.

The example set by the Malaysian leadership must be reflected upon in Kiev, which has been reluctant to negotiate with rebels in the east, opting instead for a bloody military campaign that has wrought great human cost and served to push the embattled region further into Moscow’s corner.

As world powers exchange accusations, it is important at this point to acknowledge that until an objective international investigation can be undertaken, any figure attempting to assign responsibility for this heinous crime onto one side or the other without verifiable evidence is only expressing speculation, not facts.

While top representatives in Washington and Kiev accused Russia from the start, they have failed to provide any forensic evidence that can be scrutinized, relying thus far on clips that have appeared on YouTube and social media.

Russian defense officials have responded by releasing military monitoring data and satellite images that disprove the initial claims made by Kiev. Moscow claims that there is evidence to show that a Ukrainian fighter jet tailed the Boeing aircraft prior to its disappearance.

Satellite images also show Kiev deployed several surface-to-air-missile systems near rebel held-territory, and the Russian military claims to have detected radiation from the missile battery’s radar that was active at the time when the plane came down.

Defense officials have also noted that MH17 took a route some 200km to the north of the trajectories that other Malaysian Airlines flights had used in previous days that led it to fly over the troubled Donetsk region, into the heart of rebel-held territory.

BCC has reported that the Ukrainian secret service has taken the unusual move of confiscating the recording between air traffic control and the doomed aircraft. Such information would be needed to establish culpability and identify whether Ukrainian air traffic control directed the aircraft into the zone where it was shot down.

Rebel forces fighting in eastern Ukraine have succeed in shooting down military aircraft in the days preceding the MH17 disaster, though most analysts agree that the rebels would not have the capacity to strike a civilian passenger aircraft traveling at normal cruising altitude using the man-portable air defense systems that they are known to possess.

As of yet, there is no conclusive evidence that has surfaced to prove that rebels possess the kind of surface-to-air missile systems needed to take down a commercial airliner, and there is also nothing to verifiably substantiate the claim that Russia has supplied this technology to rebel fighters or assisted them in operating it.

When an international investigation panel is formed, it must demand that Ukrainian authorities release recordings between air traffic control and the Malaysian plane, in addition to the raw military radar data and tracking information needed to ascertain the movements of Ukrainian warplanes and the activity of any surface-to-air missile systems that the country possesses.

As voices in western capitals condemn Moscow in unison, the fact remains that Russia is the only country that has made available detailed forensic evidence for international investigators to scrutinize. An impartial and independent investigation into the calamity that befell Flight MH17 must be undertaken before any blame is assigned.

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today (RT) and a research assistant with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious madness in Ulster
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail