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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 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.

  11. Coaltopia

    Did Russia supply the SA-11 to the separatists or did they seize one? Is it conceivable they shot-down the airliner without specialised training? Could they be ex-army/Ukrainian-trained? Are Russian army/special-forces active in the area? Have they been providing training to separatists and is providing training on “advanced” weapons a crime? Good questions – next question: Are the separatists a listed terrorist organisation? No? Is this a proxy war? That’s probably going too far.

    The Hotel/Civil War analogy works quite well… is the Hotel responsible for patron’s security? Yes, in part, but unlikely “key culpability” rests with them.

  12. leon knight

    No surprise to me Mr Hand, that you are closely studying the Oz for your enlightenment.
    Guy is on the money for where the cold war warriors are crawling out from, and it is definitely not the left.
    Abbott as a strong leader? Sure, strong as an ox – but only half as smart.

  13. tonysee

    You rightly caution agains the media being quick to ‘accept a version of events’ that fit a narative, yet, very soon after you speculate about a version of events that condemns the airlines who flew over that zone.

    They may have been unwise, but, as I understand it, it was an approved flight path. So, to condemn those airlines without also condemning those who let them fly that way seems a little ‘incomplete’?

    It also seems a little implausible that the people who fired the missile — something requiring considerable skill by all accounts — didn’t have the sophistication to distinguish between a Boeing and an Antinov. If that’s the case then the ‘trainers’ — the Russians — bear some responsibility for letting the missiles loose on users who were reckless and incompetent.

    The ‘hotel’ analogy doesn’t quite wash either unless the attackers decided that what was clearly a civilian hotel full of non-combatants was near enough to a military barracks full of enemy soldiers!

  14. MsCharli

    If it turns out that this was a case of mistaken identity by Russian Separatists, then I agree that this was not a terrorist attack Agent 86.

  15. cairns50

    thank you guy, at last some sanity written in regard to this tragedy

  16. Emoticom

    Russia would not have endorsed the shooting down of a civilian passenger plane. Why would they court the inevitable international opprobrium and universal condemnation? It has more the characteristics of a reckless and poorly trained and supervised junior operator firing off his latest toy at the first chance to gain brownie points. This is just what you would expect of local poorly educated lads inducted into a local rebellion fuelled and supported by Russia.

    The initial jubilation changed to horror and a quick attempt to cover up as much as possible. Russia has fomented unrest and supplied arms but that has been a ploy by the USA for hundreds of years. This episode is hauntingly similar to the Iran Air Flight 655 disaster of July 2008 where 290 passengers and crew were blasted out of the sky by a sophisticated American missile in Iranian air space. If America with all its command and control systems can get it so wrong, we should not be surprised when a bunch of peasants only tenuously connected to Moscow makes a similar error. America refused to admit to doing wrong in 1988 and made a very belated and circumscribed apology in 1996. They did pay some $62 million dollars in reparations to the families of those they had accidently murdered.

    The most that Russia can be expected to do is to offer to facilitate as best they can the recovery and respectful treatment of the remains of the deceased. They need to control who has access to and who operates these powerful weapons more closely.

    Together with Ukraine, the rebels and the Airline, Russia should contribute to a fund to compensate the families of the victims of this dreadful tragedy down the track.

    What else to you really expect Russia to do? Do we really want to have WW3 over this stupid error? Remember the inexorable road to mayhem and the hecatombs of butchery that followed a single shot by another misguided nationalist, Gavrilo Princep, 100 years ago. Surely we have learned some restraint since then. And these days, we have hydrogen bombs, not just Gattling guns

    Let us grieve for those that died and for their families as we do for those that die from natural disasters.

    We should tone down the rhetoric but make every effort to determine exactly what happened and how best to prevent another such mishap in the future.

  17. CML

    Right on, Guy! I agree with the old adage over this incident – if its a choice between a conspiracy and a stuff-up, the stuff-up wins, hands down!!
    Also don’t agree with the comments above that the buck stops with Russia because they supplied the war junk. If that is the case, when are we going to start blaming the USofA for the 400+ killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, including more than 100 children? I’ll bet there are a lot of USA labels on the Israeli weaponry.
    As for the rAbbott? He is just a sh+t stirrer for the global extreme right wing. I don’t believe ANYTHING that poor excuse for a human being says. And sincere – HAHAHAHA!!

  18. bushby jane

    According to Monica Attard on The Drum, India’s president Modi flew on exactly the same flight path only hours after the Malaysian Airlines’ 777. However, it still doesn’t seem real bright to do so.
    I suspect it was done by some trigger happy pro-Russian separatist who had been given charge of a weapon that he was not equipped to handle or make decisions about. Should have known what sort of plane it was, but probably didn’t have the technology to identify it or the brain power to recognise it.

  19. Danno of Arabia

    We now have our Casus Belli for our [URL=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Great_Game”]New Great Game[/URL]

  20. Jeff Richards

    Separatists were shooting down planes in the week prior to MH17. They were targeting large transport aircraft in an effort to cut supplies being ferried to Ukrainian troops, who having successes in against separatist warlords. Putin, or some regional commander or regional administrative authority must have given the Ok to use the mobile BUK against these transport planes. Putins responsibility is not direct, but it is the outcome of his and the Russian states fanning the flames of separatism in it western borders, a dangerous policy made even more dangerous by handing the rebels a deadly high altitude missile system. It is difficult to imagine why Russia would allow separatist warlords to have control of such a missile system. One can imagine guns; shoulder launched missiles; even small artillery maybe-but a BUK is way over the top. You have to keep your dogs on a leash when you are dealing with warlords or you might find they end up damaging you. It is possible that Putin does not have or has lost control of sections of the Russian state apparatus, especially in the regions. I am sure he (Putin) is not mad enough to risk deliberately deciding to shoot down a civilian aircarft. Putin was a KGB apparatchick after all and the KGB played a critically important role in ending the communist state and bringing Russian interests closer to the western and global (capitalist) economic structures

  21. David Hand

    Hey CML,
    You’re only one or two posts away from blaming Tony Abbott for the whole thing.

  22. Spica

    Dear Guy,
    A verst is an obsolete Russian unit of length, just a bit more than a kilometer. It doesn’t denote any kind of landscape.

  23. j.oneill

    Ben Sandilands wrote an article on this topic last week and there have been extensive comments on that a article. Now, a week later, comes another article, equally free of evidence, but rife with the usual assumptions, reflected in a good proportion of the above comments.

    There are some facts emerging that somehow fail to get noted and put into context. For example, there is no evidence that the “separatists” had the BUK missile or anything like it with the requisite capabilities. It is try that the missiles most frequently mentioned are Russian in origin, but why is it never stated that the Ukrainian military had the self same missiles from the same source?

    A singularly important fact is that both Russia and the USA had the technical capability to electronically watch the unfolding of events, from across the border in Russia’s case, and within Ukraine, via satellites, and via the sophisticated American war ships carrying out an exercise in the nearby Black Sea at the time of the disaster.

    Rather than the blustering and empty threats being made by Abbott, should he not focus on demanding that both Russia and the US release their military electronic surveillance data which would go a long way to providing some real answers?

    In the meantime, less speculation and more realism and focus on facts would be welcome.

  24. Liamj

    Abbott is an embarrassment, no news there. What is news is NATOs continuing disinterest in supporting the US’s latest failed regime change. The hundreds killed in last week in east Ukraine by the neofascists in Kiev mightn’t crack a mention in The UStralian, but they’re no mystery to surrounding peoples. How big a defeat will it take for the yank chickenhawks to realise that their hegemony is over, and then how much longer will it take for the LibLab flacks & News Corpse churnalists to read their mail and mumble out their reversals?

  25. AR

    I’ve come too late to this thread to do other than commend or comment those above,
    CML – re Gaza/USA weaponsmonger, TICK.
    Spica – perhaps GR meant ‘veldt’ and had brain fade?
    Not as if there is adequate evidence of what happens when macho types get hold of too much hi-tek weaponry – they gotta blow something up, eg Kabul after the Russians left.

  26. Spica

    AR – The South Africans have got the veldt. Russians, and I dare say Ukrainians, are very happy with their steppe.

  27. AR

    No steppe in Ukraine but no taiga either.
    “Veldt’ is old Dutch-Afrikaans for ‘field’, or ‘Feld’ in German, though “Wiese” is a better description of where the wreckage is strewn.

  28. Spica

    To quote Wikipedia: The Pontic-Caspian Steppe extends from western Ukraine to the Urals.
    I don’t know what the Ukrainians call it, but in Russian it’s the steppe, complete with Cossacks.

  29. fractious

    I’m with you on the rapidity and ubiquity with which certain government authorities and certain media outlets have played their “it’s those commie bastards’ fault” card, and the (largely false) assumptions that underlie them. Ditto the urgent need to foist “meaning” on an event which has more than enough going on without additonal layers of rhetoric covering up the truth.

    However, on this:

    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

    … I’ll say the same as I (and a few others) said on Ben Sandilands’ blog: while the airline must share responsibility for putting paying passengers in the way of great danger, primary responsibility lies with the air traffic control authorities (both Eurocontrol and local ATC) for continuing to declare the route “safe”, despite the loss of several aircraft in recent weeks to SAM. Yes, Eurocontrol quickly began refusing flight plans that included flying over Ukrainian airspace after this event, but why is it authorities (and large commercial enterprises) only seem to find such enthusiasm for their duty of care after the event?

  30. Sprague Brett

    Hardly a measured piece from Rundle.
    It seems blinded by its own bias, so determined to charge the US, Australia and anyone else with poor judgement.
    I’m not sure what voices Rundle is listening to, but has any Government officially accused Russia of a deliberate act of war against MH17. Giving Rundle the benefit of the doubt of understanding the situation, surely he can appreciate that if Russia has been denying involvement in the Ukraine conflict, but now evidence suggests a high probability that a high tech Russian system has supported the Separatists aims, then Russia wears some considerable blame. This system being so high tech that the probability the good folk of Eastern Ukraine or even the motley crew of Separatists themselves had the skill and training to use it, is so low; a system so high tech that it is unlikely Russia would allow any of the above to even play or learn the system without 100% allegiance to Russia and having undergone diligent screening, this all points to some serious complicity by Russia.
    It is this complicity that must be challenged, this decision to escalate their support for the Separatists (even if in response to Ukrainian escalation) and still deny it. There is indeed a strong probability of blood on Russia’s hands, which if they cared to officially admit their support for the Separtists, would actually legitimise it as a tragedy of war. Declare war, and at least you’ve set an honest context, this crap from Putin should be rubbed in his face.
    Yes, we understand that Europe has far more skin in the game than Australia, including immense trade concerns, but pressure should be applied and insisted on, and Europe needs to be held to account for any mediocre response they deliver to Putin. NATO doesn’t have a place at this table, but the UN can, and Australia is directing its energies rather well at the moment.

  31. David Ritchie

    1. I’m the first to say that the Russians and their proxies are a bunch of mongrels (ie. look at Chechnya) and have been for a long time…..and where were the US., European, let alone the Australian, government over the last 15 years in relation to Russia operating outside civilised norms. It reminds me of the way the west treated Osama Bin Laden and his Saudi backers while it suited them.
    2. Obviously it’s not ideal to fly over war zones – MAS and other airlines are culpable.
    3. The Russian government and their Ukrainian rebel proxies are probably to blame and must be held to account.
    4. But where does this xenophobic, ignorant, nationalistic, partisan hatred evident in our newspapers, TV, radio and internet come from if not from fervent ideologues?
    5. Yes, 298 people died in a terrible crime against civilians above the Ukraine. But ow many people died in the same week in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Nigeria etc etc.who are not mourned or even recognized by us in Australia.
    6. In all the reports of civillian airlines bought down by “other” powers I’m surprised to see no mention of Iranian flight 655 bought down by the US over the Straits of Hormuz in 1988 (290 dead) – obviously only us westerners count as victims.

  32. David Ritchie

    And I’d like to add that in terms of ‘ civilised norms’, the poor old Ukrainians have been both victims and perpetrators of horrendous human rights atrocities since the 1920’s. Victims of Stalin’s enforced famines, collectivizations and relocations that killed millions but also responsible for terrible slaughter of Jews and other minorities under Hitler……and who knows where the Ukraine stands now on these issues.
    It’s very simple and easy to demonise those we don’t agree with – but how different are the Ukrainian separatists to the revolutionaries (a minority) in the US in the 18th century?
    This is a lot more complex than a bunch of recidivist, red russki’s backing a bunch of cranky rebel savages against peace loving, democratic, capitalist angels – it’s time our leaders (and our press/journalists) reflected this.

  33. Adrian

     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;

    Please type Google – flight radar and take one of the many free available options i.e.

    Did you get the flight details?
    Not yet?
    Click on the choosen Jet.

  34. Lubo Gregor

    The differences of the cold war have been erased completely in the last 25 years! Both former sides of the conflict have now finally reached the same level playing field and unified the methods and operation of the propaganda through media that give the appearance of independence. Priceless!


  35. Peter Watson

    The Rebels have guarded the black box flight recorders closely, and handed them personally to the Malaysian delegation.
    Ukraine government are desperate to get their military to the crash site before the international delegation gets there.

    There has been an enormous amount of media spin about rebels destroying evidence.

    Strange stuff.

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