Monday, 21 July 2014


"Yes, I supplied the missile system, and I'll tell you why..."

First of all, I’m assuming, like most people, that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was struck down by a missile (probably a Buk, although I'm no expert in these matters) and that the missile was fired by Russian separatists from territory they controlled. I’m also assuming that President Putin of Russia knows a lot about this and indeed supplied the weapon involved.

Any of these assumptions could turn out to be untrue, but this looks like the most likely scenario. If so, what is Putin up to? What is his game plan, or does he even have one at the moment?

His present strategy seems to be to obfuscate the issue by (a) not admitting the nature of his involvement, (b) introducing alternative narratives, and (c) sitting tight. This procedure might be outlined somewhere in one of the many KGB manuals that Putin grew up on in the 70s and 80s, but it doesn't send out the right Alpha Male signal that we normally associate with the man. Instead of making like a boss, he is looking devious, defensive, and slightly sweaty.

If the Russian separatists did use one of the toys Putin gave them to pluck a Boeing out of the sky, then that fact is likely to emerge one way or the other, even if it is just by the collective will of the united Western media, who can smell weakness better than a shark can smell blood.

Buk missile system

Putin therefore has to change tack immediately. If he knows what happened – and I'm sure he does – he should be revealing that to the World, even if it means admitting what most people are now suspecting, that Russian separatists pulled the trigger.

But he shouldn't stop there. Politicians in the West – Kerry and Cameron spring to mind – are trying to make an illogical connection between Russian separatists shooting down the jet by accident (yes, I’m assuming that as well) and the need for Putin to stop supporting the separatists, and for them to entirely capitulate.

Regardless of which side you support in this conflict, this is an absurd piece of logic and makes the crass assumption that Western lives (with a few dozen South East Asians) are way more important than those of Eastern Europeans. If the death of 298 passengers is considered sufficient cause to stop this war on any terms, sufficient cause already existed before this tragic incident in the hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian lives already lost, such as in the shelling of Lugansk by the Ukrainian army. Whereas the conflict is now unlikely to consume any more airline passengers, it will of course continue to devour Russian and Ukrainian lives.

Tragic as it is, Flight MH17 is essentially an irrelevance, or it should be. The only way it can be significant is if it makes Putin behave like a weak and shifty character, and, by doing so, emboldens his enemies.

While admitting the facts, Putin should also point out the logic of his position. He should explain why he felt forced to give the rebels weapons like the missile system that was apparently used. He should point out the asymmetry of the warfare of recent weeks, with the Ukrainian forces stepping up air attacks on the Russian rebels and how difficult it was for him as a Russian president to hold back from fuller military intervention.

Rather than anyone being right in this conflict, strong cases can be made to prove how both sides are wrong. Ukrainian President Poroshenko, emboldened by Western support has been unnecessarily heavy-handed and anti-Russian in his behaviour, asserting Ukrainian sovereignty to its fullest and most brutal degree against the separatists, while seeking to dilute it or rescind it in face of the EU and the West.

A staunch believer in Ukrainian sovereignty (sometimes) 
An equally strong case can be made against Putin and the Russians, pointing out how Russia, the biggest country in the World and which already occupies the territory of countless other ethnic groups, is trying to expand its territory again based on a principle that it denies to its own ethnic minorities.

In this conflict it is easier to find people who are in the wrong than in the right, but if you are going to involve yourself in a war, as Putin has clearly decided to do, you should at least make your case openly and honesty. If this war had been fought with more candour, then perhaps Flight MH17 would not have found itself flying over a deadly war zone on that fateful day.

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