MH-17: Australia’s flight into a warzone

In July 2014, the Australian Government found itself embroiled in a complex international situation in one of the world’s geopolitical hotspots after Malaysian Airline’s flight MH17 was allegedly shot down over Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.  All contact was lost with the Boeing 777 around 50 kilometres from the Ukraine–Russian border and then crashed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

9M-MRD

9M-MRD, the aircraft shot down, photographed in October 2011

Immediately, the US and its allies focused the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Official Washington jumping to the conclusion that Ukrainian rebels and Russia were guilty in the shoot-down of the Malaysian passenger plane. Consequently, the European Union got in line behind the American-backed Poroshenko regime in Ukraine and supported further economic sanctions to punish Russia. According to some independent investigative journalists however, some US intelligence analysts may see the evidence differently.

Robert Parry writes that, “despite US spy satellites positioned over eastern Ukraine, US intelligence agencies have released no images of a BUK system being transferred by Russians to rebel control, shipped into Ukraine, deployed into firing position and then being taken back to Russia. Though the Obama administration has released other images of Ukraine taken by U.S. spy satellites, the absence of any photos of a rebel-controlled BUK missile battery has been the dog not barking in the strident case that Official Washington has made in blaming the rebels and Russia for the July 17 shoot-down that killed 298 people.”

If it was a rebel-operated BUK-1M (also referred to as the SA-11 Gadfly), it would suggest definitive evidence is required to prove that it quickly appeared from Russia, was used for a single shot by Russian-mentored separatist rebels, then just as quickly disappeared back into Russia – but with no satellite photos from the USA proving such a theory. On the other hand, a successful shoot-down of a Russian plane would have been a major coup for the newly installed Kiev regime, which saw the Russian ally President Viktor Yanukovych overthrown last February, providing the catalyst for the current civil war. It is disturbing to note that certain senior Ukrainian politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed the desire to see Vladimir Putin killed.

This possibility coupled with the lack of official intelligence seems to have given impetus to competing theories, such as the airliner being shot down by a Ukrainian Su-25 or Su-27 fighter jet – as in the opinion of officials such as Michael Bociurkiw, one of the first Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) investigators to arrive at the scene of the disaster, near Donetsk. In a July 29 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Bociurkiw, he said that: “There have been two or three pieces of fuselage that have been really pockmarked with what almost looks like machine gun fire; very, very strong machine gun fire.”

In addition, a Globalresearch.org piece in September 2014 featured retired Lufthansa pilot Peter Haisenko’s conclusion in on the new shootdown theory and pointed to the entry and exit holes centered around the cockpit. The lack of officially released intelligence to support a claim of pro-Russian rebel shootdown, and by extension a lack of credibility over further political isolation and economic sanctioning of Russia prompted the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) to issue a memorandum to the President Barack Obama, urging him to release what evidence the US intelligence community has about the tragedy.

“Twelve days after the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, your administration still has issued no coordinated intelligence assessment summarizing what evidence exists to determine who was responsible – much less to convincingly support repeated claims that the plane was downed by a Russian-supplied missile in the hands of Ukrainian separatists,” the July 29 letter states. “As veteran intelligence analysts accustomed to waiting, except in emergency circumstances, for conclusive information before rushing to judgment, we believe that the charges against Russia should be rooted in solid, far more convincing evidence. And that goes in spades with respect to inflammatory incidents like the shoot-down of an airliner. We are also troubled by the amateurish manner in which fuzzy and flimsy evidence has been served up – some of it via social media.”

In spite of the need to establish proper evidence in such a complex and potentially explosive situation once again the mainstream media plays to the rhetoric of Washington and its Western allies, relying on unverified claims being made by the Kiev regime about something as sensitive as whether Russia provided sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles – capable of shooting down high-flying civilian aircraft – to poorly trained eastern Ukrainian rebels. In October 2014 Australian Prime Minister made the dubious decision to refer to his upcoming G20 meeting with Vladimir Putin – to be held in Brisbane – in the following incendiary manner: “I am going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am – I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered, they were murdered by Russian backed rebels.”

The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten was equally as diplomatic, first taking a swipe at the government for “laying out the red carpet” for Putin, as well as accusing the Russian President of knowing “more about what happened with MH17 than he’s let on.” Shorten also went on to state that, ”It’s an international conference, not a conference run by Australia, so if Putin has the arrogance to turn up to visit a nation whose nationals died in this plane crash, he can.”

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin (image via businessinsider.com)

As disturbing as the knee-jerk reaction of conservative and liberal politicians alike, just as alarming is the anti-Russian sentiments increasingly found in the Australian news media. Consider a few NewsCorp headlines: “Ukraine Russia war and MH17: What is Putin really up to?” “Vladimir Putin: I am not autistic” – “Vladimir Putin: Just what is he thinking?” Putin is routinely featured as a comical character, lampooned in the Australian press as an eccentric criminal in a fashion that no other global leader is, almost in a way that suggests he should not be taken seriously. Without doubt, it would be dangerously naive to underestimate the importance of good relations with the Russians to ensure stability in the region.

What many in the media and government seems to misunderstand is that the charges are so serious that it could propel the world into a second Cold War and conceivably – if there are more such miscalculations – into a nuclear confrontation. These moments call for the utmost in journalistic professionalism, especially skepticism toward propaganda from biased parties. Australians are now experiencing more of the American style prelude to economic and military confrontation – that is, the major U.S. news outlets, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, publishing the most inflammatory of articles based largely on unreliable Ukrainian officials and on the U.S. State Department which was a principal instigator of the Ukraine crisis.

In the past, this kind of knee-jerk diplomacy and war-chasing journalism has influenced public opinion and allowed politicians to seek justification for confrontation, both economic and military. In the past, the pretenses given for war with ideological enemies and opposing states have been often misleading and sometimes false. In the case of a volatile conflict involving powerful factions in a far-flung and poorly understood region, it would be wise for Australians to be careful in rushing to judgements based on speculation or unverified facts. This time, the stakes are considerably higher.

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