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The shooting down of MH017: A gruesome tragedy in a regional war.

The crash of the international civil flight MH017 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday 17 July near Donetsk is one of the gruesomly tragic consequences of the regional war that is being waged by the Ukrainian government against the pro-Russian separatists around the self-proclaimed ’people’s republics’ of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Eastern part of Ukraine, with the backing of their respective allies.

There is little doubt whether the Malaysian airplane has been shot down, from an altitude of about 10 km, by a surface-to-air missile. Neither the USA nor Russia officially deny this. The accusations that have been voiced at an official level are rather about whether the Ukrainian government or the pro-Russian separatists - and as a corollary the Putin government as their main sponsor - are to blame for this murderous “incident”. Whereas both Russia and the USA claim to have detected radar-activity immediately prior to the crash (the USA even claiming to have traced the missile’s tracks), they differ in the attribution whether the explosive has originated from separatist or from government held territory in the Donetsk area. This kind of information rather seems to reflect the sides taken in the Ukrainian conflict. Media reports (messages on social media and intercepted communications between pro-Russian irregulars) suggest that those directly involved in launching the missile attack have mistaken the international civil flight for an Ukrainian government airplane.

At present it seems very likely that flight MH017 has been shot down by accident and not “on purpose”, if only because it is hard to see what benefit the pro-Russian attackers would achieve by shooting down a civilian airplane that was “just flying over” on a frequently used route from Europe to South-Eastern Asia. Neither is it clear what advantage this heinous act would have for the Russian government, who is backing the separatist militia in the Eastern part of the country in its tactics of destabilizing the Ukrainian government. In effect, quite the opposite is true, since the consequences of this murderous “incident” go directly against the Russian interests and actually benefits its rivals, as Putin immediately has become the target of severe accusations, up to and including that of having supported or sponsored a deliberate act of international terrorism. The latter accusation has already been prominently made by the Ukrainian government (Yatseniuk) and the Ukrainian president (Poroshenko). On the other hand, it is equally hard to see why the Ukrainian government would be responsible itself for the launching of a missile strike against an airplane that had received clearance from the national flight control, and the pro-Russian separatists themselves do not dispose of airplanes that could be shot at.

In short, the plain crash severely discredits the pro-Russian belligerents and its backers in the Kremlin at the international level. Its rivals try to profit from this as much as possible in order to foster support for the Ukrainian state. In particular they try to win adherence for putting more pressure on Russia, for instance by sharpening sanctions once more, and trying to strengthen their presence on the terrain (USA military and intelligence support to the Ukrainian government). This notably applies to the campaign launched in the past days by Washington and London (Cameron) that in effect targets the more “moderate” approach towards Russia taken up hitherto by European countries following the French-German axis.
It has to be noticed that, with all the current indignation about the disaster and about the incompetent or ’disrespectful’ handling of the crash site by the Donetsk separatists, no cease fire seems to be at hand, only a limited agreement seems to have been brokered concerning investigations of the crash site and the transportation of bodies ’under supervision of the OCSE’.

The armed hostilities around Lugansk and Donetsk, and thus the military offensive by the Ukrainian army against the separatist militia, have never ceased, not even during or following the plain crash. On the contrary, as one is steeped in stupefaction and horror about this act of barbarism that - this time - victimizes civilians completely unrelated to the conflict area, current news releases suggest that the Ukrainian army has intensified its military operations, engaging in armed combat in the city of Donetsk.

Jac. Johanson, 07/21/2014; Corrected on: 07/23/14.

A chronology of the disaster is maintained at:


The shooting down of MH017: A gruesome tragedy in a regional war. (II)

(Wednesday, July 23, 2014)

The plane crash in the eastern part of Ukraine near the Russian border has made the ‘joyful’ atmosphere of ‘soccer nationalism’ and of impending summer holidays that the Netherlands were steeped in suddenly go up in smoke. It has abruptly been replaced by a mixture of grief, indignation and anger about a tragic air disaster that has cost the lives of all 298 people on board.

The harsh reality of the regional war that is already going on for months at the dividing edges of the Eurasian con­tinent, following the Russian annexation of Crimea after the overthrowing of the Yanukovych presidency in Ukraine last February, is driving home the message that the future of capitalism holds more mas­sacres and indiscriminate killings in store, affecting people who are completely unrelated to a specific war-zone, if only “by accident”.

The shooting down of flight MH017 on Thursday July 17 has abruptly elevated the Dutch bourgeoisie to the center of the international situation in the context of the international stand-off against Russia over Ukraine, if only because the Malaysian aircraft had departed from the main airport in the Netherlands (Schiphol) and because it was a joint flight of the national airline company KLM and Malaysian Airlines. A further national implication derives from the fact that the large majority of the killed passengers, 194 out of 298, almost 2/3, were holders of Dutch passports. The passengers had 9 different nationalities altogeth­er.

This coincidence has put the Dutch bourgeoisie in an uncomfortable position. Hitherto it was far from be­ing in the front-line of supporting international, and notably EU– sanctions against Russia over the latter’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year. It rather opted for the line of France and Germany, keeping all op­tions for negotiations with Russia open and reviving the OSCE. Dutch government representatives, like the minister of foreign affairs Timmermans, decidedly called for restraint because economic sanctions against Russia would first and foremost hurt the Dutch national economy itself, admitting only the more diplomatic – and largely symbolic – EU sanctions like imposing traveling restrictions on or forbidding fin­ancial transactions with certain elements from the Putin clique.

By contrast, at present the Dutch government announces to make a U-turn in its stance towards Russia, and shows signs to support a tougher going against Moscow in the wake of Washington and London, even as ‘real’ economic sanctions are expected to inevitably ‘hurt’ the Dutch economy. These are expected to do so notably in the sector of energy supply (gas). But its captains of industry do not appear to be very favor­able to a further sharpening of sanctions. (1) A spokesperson of the Phillips company, for instance, has already warned against “shooting from the hip” in the course of the past days.

The Dutch bourgeoisie appears to be caught in the middle between, on the one hand, its transatlantic alle­giance, its strategic alliance with the USA and, on the other hand, its economic ties with Europe – and with Germany in the first place. Given its status as a relatively minor imperialist power, whose relatively large presence in the world arena is to a considerable extent built on forging diplomatic alliances (promin­ently advocating the rule of “international law” and providing the seat of the International Criminal Court at The Hague), it may not come as much of a surprise that the Dutch government’s approach to the mur­derous accident emphasizes the need for the application of “international law” and “international justice”, and that it is strongly playing on humanitarian chords. Neither does it strike as something odd that it finds itself at the lead of the international investigation team on the plane crash – a chair handed over to it by the Ukrainian government – and installs a special prosecutor in Kiev (2) to investigate the eventuality of ‘war crimes’ against Dutch citizens … instead of engaging in voicing accusations against the Kremlin and Putin’s Russia without disposing of sufficient evidence to make its case. (3) (4)

Finally, some deal with the separatists had apparently been brokered, permitting the transportation of the remains of the deceased to Ukrainian government held territory after inspection by forensic specialists. Contrary to the indignation of the first days after the crash, PM Rutte displayed some relief at a press con­ference last Monday (5) about the treatment of the remains by the separatists in the perspective of their identification. The latter has been confirmed by the leader of the Dutch forensic team at the crash site. At the occasion one was entitled to a first appearance of Mr. Borodai, one of the leaders of the “people’s re­public of Donbas”, heartily declaring on a national television channel that it had taken too much time for a team to turn up and collect the corpses (so they did it themselves) and “inviting” the Dutch officials to send armed guards, like police forces, to secure the surroundings, as they are not considered enemies like the government at Kiev...

On Wednesday, July 23 the arrival in the Netherlands of the remains of the victims of the air disaster has begun. These are flown in by a Dutch and an Australian airplane at Eindhoven Airport from Charkov and are transported to a medical army barrack at Hilversum by funeral cars in solemn procession, awaiting identifica­tion. These transports are announced to last for the remainder of the week. This has been the first day of ‘national mourning’ since the decease of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962. This unorthodox measure underlines the importance that the Dutch bourgeoisie attributes to the catastrophe in view of maintaining an ambi­ance of national solidarity in grief and mourning. (6)

Facing isolation in the UN security council, Moscow has given in to the demands for ‘full cooperation’ with an international investigation into the “downing” of the airplane and has signed a UN resolution stipu­lating to bring to justice those responsible for it. Moscow has launched a publicity campaign in order to counter Western, and notably US accusations. The White House, for its part, has doubled its campaign of denouncing Russia’s implication in the destabilization of the Ukrainian State, announcing to publicize ‘in­telligence’ on the latter’s implication in the shooting down of the airplane. But so far US intelligence has not delivered unambiguous evidence on the launching of the lethal missile from ‘separatist held territory’, neither on the moving of surface-to-air missile systems (the SA-11 or ‘BUK’) to and fro across the Russian border. They rather have intensified their accusations against Russia: the latter would have continued to deliver all kinds of arms and training support to the separatists even during and after the airplane crash from a Russian army base near the East Ukrainian border.

Independently confirmed information on Kiev’s military offensive against the pro-Russian separatists in the East of Ukraine is scarce, and the Ukrainian government keeps remarkably silent on its “combat against terrorism.” This is quite in contrast to its habit of loudly denouncing its separatist adversaries at any occasion. (7) On Tuesday a Dutch television report revealed that, prior to the airplane crash, a three stories high apartment building in the town of Shnizne (Donetsk region) had been blown apart by a missile from a government fighter jet, leaving four civilians death among the inhabitants. The town is being men­tioned as the probable location of the mobile launching pad that was used to shoot down the Malaysian airplane. Gangsters are obviously not only to be found in the separatist held areas of Ukraine.

Many questions about the events leading to the disaster that struck flight MH017 remain open, as for in­stance: Why have airspace authorities, like Eurocontrol and the Ukrainian flight control at Kiev (8), given clearance for an international civilian flight over the conflict area, and why have KLM and Malaysian Air­ways, as an exception among the airline companies, accepted this as a safe route, given the fact that the pro-Russian separatists had just shut down an Ukrainian military freight plane on July 14, and that the permitted flight altitudes over the area had already been heightened? And why did they do so in spite of warnings by US and NATO officials against the separatist having taken possession of high grade ground-to-air missile systems, advising to evade the East-Ukrainian airspace?

Jac. J., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Last reviewed: Wednesday, August 6, 2014