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Jul 21, 2014

Rundle: Cold Warriors rattling kalashnikovs can’t give MH17 meaning

MH17 was almost certainly not shot down by the Russian military in a deliberate act of war against any nation with a citizen on board. But tell that to the Right.

You gotta love old Cold War hands. What an addition they are to trying to parse events such as the MH17 crash, to sort out fact from fiction. Though there seems little doubt that MH17 was shot down with a BUK missile, fired by Russian-backed separatists — though, as usual, the media of the world is accepting a version of events long before it has been thoroughly checked out — there remains serious doubt as to whether they thought they were shooting down a passenger jet. The strong possibility is that they believed it was an Antonov; the idea that it was a deliberate hit, or that Russian commanders were explicitly involved, suggests a strategy of outrage entirely out of character of the conflict in question.

But that hasn’t stopped the Cold Warriors. Paul Dibb was early out of the gate in The Australian today, assuring us that this was all an example of Putin’s KGB-trained strategy of “deception”. Thank you, comrade. Natasha, pass the shoe phone. All around the world, the same briefing books are being dusted off. While the bodies still lie on the blasted verst, the disaster is being used to conscript the West against Russia once more. The intent is to resume the expansion of NATO, the means, to confer on the act a meaning it lacks, that of the titanic political struggle between capitalism and communism in the 20th century.

To do this, it is essential to construct the destruction of MH17 as an act of terror aimed at the West, rather than as civilian casualty in a war zone. The key culpability lies with Malaysia Airlines, which, like a number of airlines, decided to fly that corridor even though the weaponry of the separatists and their support from Russia was well known. Those of us flying the Europe-Australia long haul noticed some very cheap seats hanging round these past months. Are they made possible by fuel savings such airlines make by not detouring?

To fly over, or, on a ship, pass through a war zone is an act that clearly puts the onus on the vessel and those running it — unless the country in question is claiming not to be at war, in which case the onus is on that country’s government to guarantee safe passage. But when the sovereignty itself is challenged from within, that is surely a dead letter. The Russian separatists claim that the elected Ukrainian government was deposed by a US/EU-backed coup, and that the current government has no legitimacy. Their case is arguable, their willingness to use force unquestioned, and their suspicion of overflights in a drone/surveillance world well-founded. To decide that the dead of MH17 are victims of terror is to decide the legitimacy of the war they got tangled up in. They were more like tourists killed in a hotel during a civil war than victims of a suicide hijacking or a targeted bombing, which is what the NATO/EU push would like to construct them as.

They are aided in this pursuit by the contemporary need to give such deaths meaning, a recent development. Some goose in Fairfax suggested that this was “part of a new and dangerous” world, one of those phrases that tired centrist commentators should set up as shift-F3 on their keyboards. New and dangerous? Jaysus, in the 1970s air crashes and hijackings were such regular events that they were all but scheduled on the click-clack boards at the airport. Flying has never been safer or more regular, just as everything has got safer and more regular — which is one reason why accidental death now has such ceremony built up around it. In the ’70s there wasn’t time to put out flowers and teddy bears in the arrivals lounge because by the time you got there, the August 29th movement had already hijacked something else, and another jumbo had ploughed into the runway.

The meaning we now attach to such deaths, the vastly expanded news-space given to the individual lives of the deceased — all that demands a wider narrative to give sense to their passing. So the dead pass from the circle of family and friends and into the hands of the nation. From there, it’s all but essential that the nation have an adversary. This has its domestic political purposes, both here — those around Abbott, such as the Parrot and Gerard Henderson are using the event to define him as a “strong” leader, after he was shown to be weak, inept and cowardly during the carbon tax repeal — and especially abroad, where the US Right are using it to target Obama as a weak leader. They offer no suggestions as to what he should do in response to Russia’s backing of separatists in Ukraine, because there is none — military action is out of the question, unless John McCain goes there personally (having crashed four US jets himself in his failed career as a pilot), and the EU will not support tough sanctions because European nations’ economies are so bound up with Russia’s that they would simply be damning themselves.

Even if it turns out that MH17 was deliberately shot down through some addled strategic idea of an on-the-ground separatist commander, it seems impossible to believe that the orders would have come from Russian military, still less anyone higher up the chain. But that seems to be the implicit charge by the West — that it is an act of war by Russia against any nation who had a citizen on board that plane. In the last instance, it can only be regarded as an international act if one denies Ukraine’s sovereignty — support of which is surely the point. If one respects Ukraine’s sovereignty, then it remains a criminal act of ghastly proportions, by a small conspiracy of murderers. That is the dilemma the pro-NATO expansion crowd faces at the moment. The goose flies west, but not over Kiev.

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35 comments

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35 thoughts on “Rundle: Cold Warriors rattling kalashnikovs can’t give MH17 meaning

  1. paddy

    Not bad Guy, but blaming Malaysian Airlines for flying through a hot zone and not mentioning that Ukraine was making serious money from the flight tolls is a bit rich. (See Ben Sandilands piece.) http://tinyurl.com/nro7xbe

  2. JamesConnors

    Misses the point a bit Guy. I agree this is not an act of terror and more likely a terrible mistake and that Malaysian Airlines has some hard questions to answer, but Russia is quite clearly involved on a number of levels.

    This involvement is part of Russia’s search for security, principally from potential threats emanating from Europe. With no natural barriers to rely on, it is doing this much as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War – by seeking to control and influence as much as possible the territories that border it. As it was in the Soviet era this is a zero sum game – moves to enhance Russian security must come at the expense of its neighbours.

    It is a sign of how much Russian power has decayed that this security seeking is now carried out in the Ukraine and Georgia, rather than in East Germany, but the motivations remain the same. Analysis through the Cold War frame of reference therefore do have something to contribute.

  3. mook schanker

    Guy, the key culpability is flying a plane over east Ukraine? What a load of tosh! A contributing factor indeed, but let’s not get carried away, otherwise you sound just like the exaggerated right you are complaining about in this same article…

  4. Vincent O'Donnell

    I find the mistaken identity story weak, Guy.

    An AN26 is about the size of a Fokker Friendship, top air speed a bit above 200 kts and a service ceiling of maybe 7,500 metres. The B777 was flying at almost 10,000 metres, doing twice the airspeed, is three time longer and more than twice as wide.

    The day was clear, the sun still high in the west.

    Any visual sighting would have made the difference clear, as would radar data. Some one wanted this to happen.

    Why? That’s the difficult bit. Cui bono?

  5. seriously?

    Nah Guy – think you’ve gone waaay too far in sheeting home the blame to Malaysian Airlines and suggest the outrage from Australia et al is just cover for some grander plan / plot. The blame surely belongs with those who pulled the trigger and those who aided and abetted them – Russia. Agreed, those who suggest it was in any way an intention of Russia that things like this happen are clearly flakes (I would simply ask them for what motivation Russia would order this? – none I can see). I seldom support anything Abbott does or says but I think over the weekend he was genuinely conveying what most Australians simply feel – angry at what happened, and now disgusted by the way things are being carried out on the ground in eastern ukraine. Russia did create the environment in eastern ukraine for this to happen (this is irrespective of whether theirs was a”just” cause or not) and can presumably intervene to have the recovery dealt with in a responsible manner (notwithstanding the likely blood on their hands from their role in the incident). If it had somehow been a russian airliner I bet things would be very different there at the moment. If you don’t believe it would be, then eastern ukraine is a complete disaster and that russia (putin) has lost control – can’t believe that.

  6. mikeb

    No Guy. I’m following the jist of most commenters in this thread in not laying “key culpability” with Malaysia Airlines. They may have exercised more caution – but then so should the girl raped in the wee hours after a big night out, or the drunken lad beaten up outside a “gentlemen’s club”. The “key culpability” lies with whoever shot down a big plane, even moreso without any apparent concern over finding out what they were shooting down first. They are the culprits Guy.

  7. zut alors

    Is an investigation required to attribute blame for this disaster? Unfailingly Mr Murdoch alerts us as to who is in the wrong… & why.

  8. mikeb

    Isn’t it easy for Abbott to appear strong when he doesn’t have to back up his rhetoric? I nearly gagged when he promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. Yeah – right. Putin must be shaking in his boots.

  9. David Hand

    Dibb’s article you refer to does not say what you allege it says. Dibb explicitly does not give a view about it being deliberate or accidental. He is talking about Putin’s statement, “It was shot down over Ukraine, therefore it’s Kiev’s fault” when it was most likely his missile, moved onto Ukrainian soil, as part of a war of secession he is sponsoring.

    I’m not sure what you are trying to achieve here Guy, apart from blaming the west’s businesses from chasing greedy profit, a tired, boring line of unreconstructed warriors of the left.

    “Cold Warriors rattling Kalashnikovs” you said it mate.

  10. Wobbly

    ‘Though there seems little doubt that MH17 was shot down with a BUK missile, fired by Russian-backed separatists — though, as usual, the media of the world is accepting a version of events long before it has been thoroughly checked out — there remains serious doubt as to whether they thought they were shooting down a passenger jet. The strong possibility is that they believed it was an Antonov; the idea that it was a deliberate hit, or that Russian commanders were explicitly involved, suggests a strategy of outrage entirely out of character of the conflict in question.’

    Got to agree with posts #4 and #5.

    Guy – you and your editor are being hypocritical here. How can you rule out that it wasn’t deliberate any more or less than who fired the missile?

    The meme that it was a Russian trained crew acting independently without some higher authority from Russia is conflicted by the following:

    * AN-26 aircraft or anything else the Ukrainian military may have been flying there is nothing like a Boeing 777.
    * The training and equipment required to shoot it down at that altitude would have had to have known what is was.
    * They would also have had to ask themselves why would the Ukrainians be flying West to East (towards Russian aerospace) at 30000 feet in a commercial jet liner.
    * These value decisions would have been made before firing. Another being – what if it’s a Russian jet?

    It’s unlikely we’ll learn who and why pulled the trigger and who commanded it. There’s no disputing that regardless Putin has blood on his hands. Ukraine is impotent. The West’s reaction and resolve will dictate what comes next.

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