|MH17 Wreckage in E Ukraine|
If it is indeed a given; that truth is always the first casualty of war, then what real hope is there that the grieving relatives of the 298 innocent victims who died on Malaysian Flight MH17 will ever find the answers to all of the various questions that they have undoubtedly asked themselves since the aircraft was brought down from the skies over Eastern Ukraine on Thursday 17th July 2014.
Regardless of the many competing theories surrounding the shooting down of MH17, the exact who, where, what and why of the incident, there is only one incontrovertible truth that no-one can really argue with; that 298 completely innocent international air travellers are now dead, because of someone else's actions. Quite whether that particular person's actions were deliberately malicious, criminally incompetent, or just plain unlucky we'll have to wait and see, but in any event, it will still not change the fact that 298 mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, now lie dead because of someone else's bloody internal conflict.
One suspects of course that most rational independent observers have already made up their own minds about what exactly happened to MH17 and why? Discounting the myriad of often utterly facile, ludicrous and sometimes laughable conspiracy theories, put about by people ranging from complete lunatics to the most avid pro-Russian apologists, the likelihood is that the aircraft was indeed shot down by pro-Russian separatists who mistakenly believed that MH17 was in fact a Ukrainian military aircraft passing overhead and was therefore in their eyes a legitimate target for their weapons.
Subsequently deleted and then later denied communications between Ukrainian separatists and their political handlers have made plain that it was indeed a separatist military unit that had shot down MH17, albeit mistakenly, using Russian built SA11 surface-to-air missiles, otherwise known as BUKs. However, rather than admit their terrible mistake immediately; and announce to the international community that they were in fact responsible for such a heinous accident, they chose instead to lie, to misrepresent, to obfuscate; and as a result, heaped even greater levels of personal anguish onto the relatives of those innocents who had died in the tragedy.
And even then, local separatist militias were not done exploiting the tragic deaths of the 298 passengers that they had inadvertently killed. Not content with having caused these unnecessary deaths, lied about the circumstances of the crash, the separatists then set about deliberately obscuring the details of the crash site itself, firstly by preventing unfettered international access, secondly by robbing some of the dead of their money and valuables; and thirdly by interfering with vital forensic evidence that was located at the aircraft's impact site. After all, who could have forgotten the sight of separatist militiamen handling the possessions of the dead, whether it was a cuddly toy, or a gold wedding ring? Who could explain the decision to use heavy equipment to move parts of the doomed planes wreckage around or from the site, or use heavy cutting gear to slice open sections of the already damaged fuselage?
Just who was it that allowed other separatist fighters and local villagers to go wandering aimlessly through, what was after all a major crime scene? Who was it that prevented foreign observers from fully accessing the site in the immediate aftermath of the crash? Whose actions prevented the international community from sending in the sorts of crash investigators who would normally attend such an awful tragedy? Who was it that claimed to have recovered nearly all of the 298 victims, when in fact a full 30% of the passengers bodies still remain unclaimed or undiscovered in the Ukrainian countryside to this day? Who was it that claimed that MH17 was nothing more than a sham, an aeroplane full of corpses deliberately blown up in mid air by the Western powers, in order to discredit the separatist cause? The authorities in Kiev didn't and as they don't have any form of control over that area of the country, how exactly can they be held responsible for anything that happens there, if it's the like of Mr Borodai or his henchman "Grumpy" who happen to control the very ground that the plane's wreckage currently sits on?
The likely reality of this tragedy, the truth if you will, is almost certainly that MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian separatist rebels, using BUK surface-to-air missiles that they had been given by elements within the Russian state, who were generally sympathetic to the separatist cause; and who have their own interests in seeing that particular cause succeed. That is not to say that MH17 was shot down by the Russians, or indeed by any of their active service personnel, although it does seem fairly likely that whoever did fire the missile must have received some form of basic training with the weapon system that one imagines must be associated with the Russian Federation, either with or without the express permission of the Kremlin. Either way, in most people's minds surely this would be like giving a loaded handgun to a five-year-old and not expecting a tragic accident to occur. In other words, it would be criminal negligence of the highest order for someone to have authorised the transfer of such advanced weaponry from the Russian state to the separatists; and whoever made that decision should be made to bear some level of personal responsibility for the almost inevitably tragic outcome that was flight MH17.
Of course, assorted conspiracy theorists and pro-Russian supporters argue that the Ukrainian government in Kiev also have similar BUK surface-to-air missile systems, so it could just as easily have been one of their units that destroyed MH17, rather than a separatist battery supplied by the Russians. The problem with such suggestions however are numerous, not least the fact that the better trained Ukrainian BUK systems would almost certainly have spotted the difference between a potential enemy warplane and the sorts of civilian aircraft, which would be criss-crossing their skies on a regular basis. The Ukrainian units were not thought to be in the rebel-held area of the country where the missile was initially launched, whilst the Ukrainian air force would have the sorts of checks and balances within their command structure designed to virtually eliminate such mistakes from occurring. Also, just who exactly would these Ukrainian BUK systems be targeting anyway, as it seems highly unlikely that the separatists have any sort of air force to speak of, let alone one that could be regarded as a credible threat?
For their part, the pro-Russian separatists and some western commentators have argued that the Ukrainian military has previous form when it comes to accidentally targeting and destroying civilian aircraft, citing the case of Siberian Airlines Flight 1812, which was shot down by a Ukrainian S200 missile in the region of Crimea in October 2001. Although widely accepted as nothing more than a tragic accident, the missile having failed to self-destruct after missing its drone target, to this day the Ukrainian military still refuse to fully accept that Flight 1812 was downed by one of their missiles, even though compensation has been paid to relatives of the dead in the meantime. It is worth pointing out though that the circumstances of this particular incident were fairly unique, in that the presence of the Black Sea, a significant body of water, was said to have been a contributing factor in the tragedy; as was the fact that Flight 1812 had apparently fallen victim to a Ukrainian "live-fire" exercise that just happened to go tragically awry; and that the incident took place less than a month after the 9/11 attack on the United States.
Contrast those particular circumstances with the ones surrounding the downing of Flight MH17; and the only common denominator would appear to be the country of Ukraine itself. As far as anyone can tell thus far, the only parties conducting "live-fire" operations against aircraft, appear to be either the Ukrainian separatists, or their Russian sponsors, as has been seen through the targeting and shooting down of several Ukrainian fighters and transport aircraft, both before and after the destruction of MH17. For anyone to suggest that the Ukrainian authorities would specifically target a civilian aircraft, or indeed the Presidential aircraft of Vladimir Putin, in the full glare of international observance is quite simply absurd. And just because America and her allies happen to be on the opposite side of the argument over Ukraine, it doesn't necessarily make them liars when it comes to identifying who was actually responsible for the shooting down of MH17 and the deaths of its 298 passengers.
It wasn't the United States that steadfastly refused to use its influence to bring about an early on-site investigation of the plane's wreckage. It hasn't been the United States that has continued to arm the separatists, thereby ensuring that Eastern Ukraine has remained in a state of uncertain military flux. It's not the US and its allies that have prevaricated over the rights, wrongs and wherefores of the incident; or the ones who have sought to create a series of highly illusory, but completely unlikely scenarios that might explain the possible reasons for Flight MH17's complete and utter destruction in the skies over Ukraine. No, there is only one nation that has sought to prevaricate, to obfuscate, to misrepresent, to delay; and that country is Vladimir Putin's Russia.
To be fair however, no-one in the international community; and I mean NO-ONE has come out of the current situation very well. Ten days on and still the crash site in Eastern Ukraine remains pretty much as it was within hours of the disaster, save for some rudimentary body recoveries and wreck investigations that have been carried out in a highly piecemeal fashion. Anything up to one hundred bodies could still remain undiscovered in the fields surrounding the crash site, not because no-one cares, but because the separatist militias still hold sway in the area; and therefore control all means of access for international investigators, which they often choose to give or withhold purely on a personal whim.
But then, what would one expect from what is after all a rag-tag collection of ne'er-do-wells, the indigent, strident nationalists, indoctrinated political disciples, the paid mercenaries, all of whom have their own issues with the elected authorities in Kiev; and who having been given access to heavy weaponry, now have permission to use them as they will. Hardly surprising then that they are busily carving out their own little personal fiefdom, courtesy of their Russian and Ukrainian paymasters, or even that they demand that the international community pay homage to their new found prestige, as the price for recovering passengers bodies; or even discovering what it was that caused the plane to crash in the first place.
Although most of the pro-Russian separatists have undoubtedly been exposed for what they are, a bunch of ill-disciplined drunkards and common brigands, it would probably be a mistake to believe that they are unmanageable, or directionless, as that is clearly not the case. Behind the ranks of these heavily armed, largely uninformed and generally obedient gunmen, are the plotters, the financiers, the strategists, most of whom are ethnic Russians, who along with their immense hatred of the west, also bring with them money, military experience, modern weaponry and political connections. Take for example the likes of Aleksander Borodai, Vladimir Antyufeyev and Igor Strelkov, all of whom hold positions of authority within the insurgency, but at the same time being supported by the likes of Donetsk native Alexander Khodakovsky, although it is increasingly rumoured that such Ukrainian born separatists are slowly, but steadily being usurped by their Russian born comrades in the upper echelons of the insurgents makeshift command structure.
The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who having worked so hard to build himself an image of international statemanship, has now begun to show his true colours, as little more than a modern day version of Stalin, the vicious 20th century tyrant that Mr Putin is reported to admire; and in whose historical shadow he seems destined to remain. Although no-one would doubt Russia's right to its own national security and sense of well-being within its traditional spheres of influence, ostensibly Eastern Europe and Asia, the world has moved on from the practices of the 1940's and 1950's, when larger, more powerful states could simply annexe, invade and then absorb their smaller, weaker neighbours. The leaders of most modern nation states have learned that lesson, but Mr Putin clearly has not it seems.
In Crimea, Mr Putin dishonestly claimed that the ethnic Russian majority were in such danger from the Ukrainian minority that he was forced to act in their defence, yet he chose to employ insurgents and unmarked Russian forces to first destabilise and then seize the region. He has subsequently claimed that a hastily arranged plebiscite proved that the majority of the Crimean population wanted to formally rejoin Mother Russia, rather than remain as part of modern day Ukraine; and yet all reports thus far indicate that only around 30% of the Crimean population voted in the plebiscite at all; and even then only half of them voted for rejoining Russia proper, which only equates to around 15% of the total population.
Being the opportunist that he is, the general inaction of the western powers, especially those in the European Union, to Mr Putin's illegal land grab in Crimea, has simply encouraged the Russian President to go further, resulting in his actions in Eastern Ukraine, which brings us back to the subject of the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Had the West been more strident in its opposition to Mr Putin's actions in Crimea, would the insurgency in Eastern Ukraine have begun at all? Would the separatists have been given, or seized the surface-to-air missile system that killed nearly 300 innocent passengers as they passed over Ukraine? Would Presidents Putin's international reputation still be intact amongst other world leaders had he not pursued his current course of action? Would Russia today still be heading towards being widely regarded as a international pariah state, a sponsor of terrorist organisations? Would the Russian economy be thriving, or as it is now threatening to "tank"? Would Russia's millions of citizens be better off now without Mr Putin's unwarranted interventions in his neighbours affairs, or is Russia much better off having Crimea back in the mother country's fold, even though only 15% of the people living there actually voted for that?
On the other side of the world, the American presidency of Barak Obama, has been seen to paying the price of his administration's retreat from driving world events, to simply observing and commenting on them, becoming a reactive President rather than proactive one. Even today, on Monday 28th July 2014, there has been a significant amount of public comment regarding Mr Obama's golf games, along with his post-presidential intentions, despite the fact that he is only 18 months or so into his second term.
For many, it is Mr Obama's apparent disconnect with wider world affairs that has caused many of the crises that are now threatening to engulf his presidency, including the problems of Ukraine, the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider Pacific region. Despite being particularly active in terms of driving forward his various domestic policies, Mr Obama's apparent reluctance to "wave a big stick" in terms of American foreign policy is seen by some critics as a personal weakness of the president; and therefore damaging to Americas wider interests overseas. It is a generally well established fact that the Obama administration always had it in mind to undertake a foreign policy "pivot", concentrating American interests more towards the Pacific, in order to address and confront the rise of China, whilst at the same time reducing its involvement in Europe, where the European Union was intended to hold sway on the continent; and contain any danger from a increasingly powerful and wealthy Russia, a role that they have singularly failed to fulfil.
At the same time that Mr Putin's Russia has become more assertive, due in part to Mr Putin's own nationalistic leadership and the large-scale development of the country's oil and gas reserves, which will undoubtedly help fund a complete rebuilding of Russia's ageing military resources, virtually all of Europe's national armies are being reduced due to budgetary constraints within the various member states, including France and the UK. From an American perspective the European over reliance on US military power is both unfair and unreasonable, as it calls for the USA to be confronting several potential enemies all at the same time; and is placing an increasing strain on the American taxpayer and the US defence budget. Despite being content to play the part of "back-stop" in the event that a major European military conflict were to arise, for the most part, American policy on Europe seems to have been to force the EU to step up to its own security responsibilities with regard to Russian involvement in neighbouring states, a strategy that has thus far failed to work effectively.
|The EU's Herman Van Rompuy|
Clearly the European Union bears some level of direct responsibility for Mr Putin's aggressive actions in Eastern Europe, as it was thought to have been the EU's & NATO's thoughtless intrusion into Russia's traditional backyard that has encouraged Mr Putin to push back against Western governments in the first place. If the Cold War was indeed over and Russia no longer represented a danger to western democracy, then why was there a need or indeed a desire for some former Eastern Bloc countries to join NATO, which is after all a product of the Cold War? Stationing NATO controlled weaponry and troops along what was in theory an obsolete ideological border was always likely to be a bad idea, much more so when you add in a membership of a highly westernised mutual trading union, such as the EU. It is perhaps little surprise then that a slowly evolving and emerging Russia would almost inevitably take offence at the economic, political and military developments that were taking place on its own national borders.
Despite what its leaders may choose to believe, the European Union is not the final word in international trade. Indeed, even some of its own member states, most noticeably the UK, fully recognise the problems that a fully integrated economic, social and political customs union can cause for some countries, not least in terms of national sovereignty and immigration, etc. It was an act of sheer lunacy for anyone in the EU to assume that a increasingly isolated and nationalistic Russia would simply accept the idea that a highly westernised and extremely well-armed customs union was going to push up against their national borders, with all of the risks that such a move might entail for the current Russian leadership. One only has to recall the USA's reaction to the prospect of Russian missiles being stationed on Cuba, or the various communist insurgencies that took place in Central America a few decades ago, to fully understand why Vladimir Putin is and was so resistant to the idea of Ukraine becoming yet another EU member state.
That is not to say that simple geography should have placed a prohibition on Ukrainian membership of the European Union, only that Russia should have been consulted and involved in the process right from the outset. It simply beggars belief that in this day and age that a purportedly developed and forward thinking political creation like the EU chose to ignore and overlook the very real concerns of Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation, especially when it became obvious that he was beginning to feel "squeezed" through the encroachment of western nations into Russia's traditional borderlands of Eastern Europe. Better perhaps if the West had offered the likes of Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic and even Ukraine, a different sort of trade and security relationship, one that didn't cause Russia to instinctively balk at the prospect. Better perhaps if the European Union had offered these former Eastern Bloc states some form of non-aligned associate status that permitted them to look and trade both ways, both East and West. Perhaps then Crimea would still be part of the Ukraine, maybe then there would be no insurgency raging in that country, but perhaps more importantly the 298 passengers from Flight MH17 would still be alive today?