The downing of MH17 may stiffen the backbones of the EU and US in their dealings with Russia but is unlikely to be a game changerby Rodric Braithwaite / July 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
What happened and who was responsible for the horrific destruction on 17th July of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 is still not clear amid the welter of claims, counterclaims, and downright lies. The aircraft’s black boxes may show that it was brought down by a missile. But that will not tell us who fired the missile or why. Nevertheless there are nuggets of what looks like fact.
Early on Thursday afternoon Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine were heard to claim that they had shot down a Ukrainian military An-26, a comparatively small propeller-driven aircraft which looks nothing like a big jet. Next came an intercepted conversation between two worried Russians saying that a bunch of Cossacks manning a rebel checkpoint had indeed downed a civilian airliner. Since the aircraft was flying too high to be hit by the hand-held anti-aircraft missiles hitherto available to the separatists, the Ukrainians, Americans, and others argued that they must have used a sophisticated BUK missile launcher, which requires a trained crew and must have been brought in from Russia. The Russians quickly denied that.
Presumably someone knows the truth, not least the more sophisticated bits of the American intelligence machine. But even to the outsider it already seems probable that it was separatists who shot the plane down, less probable that they did so with the active connivance of Russian government agents on the spot, and not at all probable that the Russian government itself directly approved something that could only complicate its life.
Putin and his people have huffed and puffed. But their language has been fairly circumspect. They have refrained from taking up positions on matters of fact that might later be disproved by events. Putin has expressed his condolences to the Malaysians, and to the Dutch who lost many of their people on the plane, and called a minute’s silence at a meeting of his officials. He has said, rightly, that the crash must be thoroughly and objectively investigated, and called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine without which the tragedy could not have occurred. More waspishly, he has added that it is always the country where these things happen—in this case Ukraine—that…