MH17 crash site
Wreckage of Flight MH17

Let’s be blunt about the Malaysia Airlines MH17 atrocity, which killed all 298 people who were on board the Boeing 777-200ER as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 and was shot down over disputed territory in eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made BUK missile.

It’s been turned into a grubby exercise in political grandstanding almost from day one, while the issue of the airline’s culpability in allowing its jet to be flown into harm’s way has been largely ignored.

None of the alleged (and highly probable) Russian perpetrators, nor Vladimir Putin, is going to stand trial for murder or manslaughter in any worldly court, including the one in the Netherlands the Dutch authorities have said would be convened if anyone could be so arraigned.

The ludicrously impracticable claims made about pursuing Russian involvement in this disaster nevertheless appear exceedingly well grounded in terms of it being a Russian-made weapon and one that in all likelihood was launched by, or with the deep involvement of, Russian operatives, and from soil claimed by Ukraine.

No intent to destroy a civilian airliner has been proven. No logical benefit to Russia or to pro-Russian separatists has been identified nor claimed from such an atrocity. There is an almost vanishingly small but nagging possibility that the missile concerned was launched by Ukrainian operatives, but in all seriousness, there has been no convincing evidence of this advanced by a parade of Russian apologists making often contradictory claims as to the sequence and nature of events on that terrible day.

[MH17 two years on, and Abbott continues to ignore airline’s role in atrocity]

On July 17, 2014, just over four months after MH370 vanished, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 became, according to the Dutch Safety Board inquiry that reported in October 2015, the 17th aircraft shot down by missiles or close engagements in those lawless skies in the weeks preceding the tragedy.

Those killed included 27 Australians, but it was the 193 Dutch citizens who boarded the flight at Schiphol airport that made up the largest group of victims by nationality.

Since then media coverage of the disaster has been that of continued political outrage over the Russian involvement to the apparent exclusion of the airline’s culpability in putting the plane into harm’s way.

Fairfax Media currently deserves the award for recent maudlin rubbish about MH17 with this heartstring-tugging diatribe directed at Russian president Vladimir Putin by a country Ohio lawyer, Jerry Skinner, who seems to talk more about his own family, and Jesus Christ, than a real case that would deliver damages, and relief, to the next of kin of the MH17 dead.

The recently affirmed Dutch government position, that persons identified with the targeting and launch of the missile that blasted the cockpit of MH17 with high-velocity shrapnel would be tried in the Netherlands, is a nonsense story. There is no realistic prospect that such persons, if found to be alive, could end up in the dock of a Dutch court.

During the entire MH17 story to date, the Dutch authorities have excelled at fueling the tabloid narratives about the Russian involvement, though they also produced in-depth factual guidance concerning the identification of the BUK missile and how flight MH17 was planned and operated, and what the relevant Ukrainian and Russian authorities were doing.

[MH17 criminal probe yet to identify missile launch culprits]

However, only the tabloid-satisfying utterances of the Dutch have received widespread media and political attention.

In its 2015 report the Dutch Safety Board said the Malaysia Department of Civil Aviation had refused access to some documents and officials it sought during its inquiries.

As a result, the Dutch-led international investigation could not determine if Malaysia Airlines was aware of a Russian warning of airspace restrictions that came into effect on July 17, 2014, which were 21,000 feet higher than those imposed by Ukraine covering its part of an air route being followed on that fateful day by MH17.

That cast doubts on the discharge of safety responsibilities by the airlines that continued to fly through airspace over a war zone in which at least 16 aircraft, including helicopters, had been shot down during hostilities in the previous month.

What was Malaysia Airlines thinking? How deficient is the safety culture of any carrier that only thinks fuel savings, and not “war zone transit” or “mechanical emergencies” when flight planning for a jet that can carry hundreds of passengers over part of the planet that is the scene of well-known and prolonged military hostilities?

The Dutch Safety Board acknowledged that the default setting of airlines when it came to route and operational planning was to fly, reflecting a pressure to fly that proved deadly when it failed to recognise the risks evident in the east Ukraine situation.

However, neither the Australian government nor its supposed opposition has said boo about the operational standards and conduct of Malaysia Airlines in relation to MH17. It’s a deliberate oversight that sells short the victims of the MH17 atrocity for the sake of trite, and absurd, railings against the Russians.  

The MH17 narrative since it was blown out of the sky has been a relentless political circus, framed in terms of a manhunt for the criminals who variously deliberately intended to commit an act of mass murder against unsuspecting civilians in a Western airliner, or a grotesque error by Putin’s Russia verging on the obscene.

But that doesn’t mean the Russian involvement, to whatever extent or purpose, should be ignored or go unprosecuted, even if identifying and trying under an effective law shouldn’t be pursued.

There needs to be a bit of reality in the process, not huffing and puffing over the Russians in what is about as edifying a process as political figures trying to crowd into photos of coffins in motorised convoys.

Peter Fray

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