MH17 and the Ukraine Blame Game

By Timothy Spangler

July 24, 2014 6 min read

In the days after the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, global indignation has ignited against the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are believed to have launched the fatal SA-11 missile against the passenger aircraft. Separately, Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have become targets of rhetorical attacks and diplomatic backlash based on their alleged role in sponsoring and supplying these separatists.

Despite the attempt by Kremlin critics to construct a narrative that includes a prominent role for Putin in the shooting down of MH17, which resulted in the loss of 298 lives, U.S. intelligence experts have not yet been able to establish a direct evidentiary link between the Russian government and the catastrophe. Despite the Obama administration's repeated claims that the Kremlin supported and trained the separatist forces, crucial questions remain unanswered. First, who specifically shot the SA-11 missile in question? Second, were Russian officials present when that missile was launched?

Importantly, no credible arguments have been made that the downing of MH17 was intentional. Instead, many experts concede that the attack was most likely a mistake by combatants within Ukraine. This, however, has not tempered the efforts of international critics to punish Russia for its supposed involvement in the tragedy, with talk of financial sanctions and blacklists for senior Kremlin officials.

For example, European politicians are arguing that Russia should be shown a "red card" and denied the ability to stage the 2018 World Cup. Meanwhile, attention is turning to those wealthy Russians with ties to the Kremlin who are living successful lives in Britain and whether British politicians are doing enough to actually hit them where it hurts. In response, British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized France for selling warships to Russia, thereby profiting from Putin's militarism. Protests are even brewing within the Netherlands to deport Putin's daughter Maria, who lives in the small village of Voorschoten with her Dutch boyfriend.

It is interesting how, even in this centennial of the outbreak of World War I, so little attention is being given to the unfortunate precedent set 100 years ago this week. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was conducted by a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, who was a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Princip dreamed of a "greater Serbia" that would unify the Serbian population within the empire with the neighboring independent Kingdom of Serbia. In retribution for the attack and in the belief that Serbian government officials masterminded the scheme, Austria quickly declared war on Serbia, initiating a series of falling dominoes that would lead to four-year Continental bloodletting. There are obvious parallels between the Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine and Princip's Bosnian Serbs, but anti-Russian agitators seem oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

Equally interesting is the nearly total silence on the culpability of Ukraine regarding these unnecessary deaths. Despite a special election meant to provide a measure of legitimacy to the coup leaders, Kiev still has not been able to reach an accord with eastern separatists, who remain doubtful over the central government's long-term intentions. Most troubling, though, should be the refusal of Kiev to close Ukrainian airspace to foreign planes, thereby intentionally leaving the door open for disasters such as MH17. Kiev can't have it both ways. Either it has the ability to exercise adequate control over its territories or it needs to be transparent to the rest of the world about its failure to secure its own skies. Simply put, if Kiev would have closed its airspace, the MH17 tragedy would not have occurred. Yet the overwhelming majority of the media seem intent on establishing that Putin is legally and morally responsible for these deaths.

Clearly, the fact that 298 lives were lost on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is tragic. To put the loss in context, the loss suffered by the Netherlands from the MH17 attack was proportionately greater (based on population) than the United States' loss on Sept. 11. Consequently, it should come as little surprise that the countries whose citizens were on MH17 are demanding that a full investigation be conducted and the responsible parties be punished. But politicizing the process will do little to reach the much-needed answers and could further destabilize a region that has already proved to be exceptionally volatile.

Many championing a hard line against Moscow will adamantly deny that they are motivated by politics. However, it is worth noting that the number of causalities from the Obama administration's drone program over the past five years is almost 10 times greater than the number of people who died on MH17. Whereas Putin is being accused of war crimes even though the missile launch may have been accidental, Barack Obama was given a Nobel Peace Prize despite his drone attacks being intentional and subject to his personal supervision.

Funny how the "blame game" can be played differently when the politics warrant.

Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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